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LAS VEGAS-What’s the most difficult part of doing retail public/private partnerships today? That’s the question posed by moderator Mark Shields, syndicated columnist and CNN personality, to a panel of public officials and association heads at the ICSC Spring Convention on Monday morning. The venue was a general convention session titled “Progress for Partnerships.”It’s a matter of getting to know and understand each other, said Mayor Don Plusquellic of Akron, OH, who’s also president of the US Conference of Mayors (USCM). “Developers have to get in early in the process to start talking about their plans,” he told attendees. “Yes, residents should be involved, but you should start talking to city officials early to get people to understand what your goals are.”Mayor Beverly O’Neill of Long Beach, CA, who’s the incoming president of the USCM, concurred, adding that developers should also “work with the immediate neighborhoods of their project early on. We’ve had the experience of developers getting hammered by their neighbors.” Mayor Kwame M. Kilpatrick of Detroit, meanwhile, addressed the whole perspective of public policy. He suggested that cities and counties should offer greater flexibility for top public officials “to use public programs to facilitate development.”In terms of resistance to proposed development, Shields asked, “what about the Wal-Mart perception?” His angle was that the mere appearance of the retail giant on the scene often raises opposition to a project.Jeffrey A. Finkle, president/CEO of the International Economic Development Council (IEDC), Washington, DC, cautioned that “this isn’t a Wal-Mart thing. It’s a big-box issue. Many people don’t like what big boxes look like. They also see other large stores close as the result of the competition. And there’s the trickle-down effect, the impact on small stores.”Donald J. Borut, executive director of the National League of Cities, said that he has seen a “mixed reaction” to Wal-Mart and other big boxes. “Some people see them as a real asset, and some people see them as a bad thing.” He suggested that such retailers and their public sector partners “feel the pulse of the community.”Steven J. Budd, chairman of IEDC, meanwhile, urged public/private partners to “look for a balance between small mom-and-pop stores and a big box. We like to see that residents have a full range of services.”"Some are ecstatic to get something like a Wal-Mart,” added Karen M. Miller, a county commissioner of Boone County, MO and immediate past president of the National Association of Counties. But she cautioned that big boxes tend to work better in bigger communities, that there are problems in the smaller communities, where the impact on smaller retailers can be more dramatic.But for Mayor Kilpatrick of Detroit, it really didn’t matter: “Big Box, small store, we will do what we need to do to get it done.”The panel also kicked around the subject of taxes, and whether that can be a deterrent to development. The view was mixed across the panel, but Edward Beasley, city manager of Glendale, AZ and regional VP of the International City/County Management Association put the whole thing in the lap of the market itself. “The market is going to follow where people want to go,” he responded simply.Asked about ongoing barriers to get public/private projects done, Finkle put it into two words: “Red tape. More communities are expediting one-stop shopping” in their approach to attracting development.Miller, meanwhile, emphasized the importance of “getting local government to get the demographics to help a community response for development.”Ultimately, the public/private partnership itself is the key to getting such projects done, in O’Neill’s view. “Without it, you won’t make it.”And developers themselves should recognize the need to come in “and work within the existing public sector structure,” Kilpatrick said. “If you do that, and you do it right, we will get the deal done.”

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