LAS VEGAS-When the Leasing Mall portion of the Spring Convention of the International Council of Shopping Centers opens for business on Monday morning, the show will trot out an array of more than 900 exhibitors occupying some 650,000 sf of space. The show itself occupies about one million sf gross.

And business is decidedly the issue at this event. According to ICSC figures, approximately 25% of all the retail leases in shopping centers signed in any given year in the US are either concluded or initiated during the three days the Leasing Mall operates each May.

This year, “the exhibitors I’ve spoken to are pumped,” says Phyllis Peterson, director of leasing and dealmaking for ICSC, who has managed the Leasing Mall for the past 17 years. “They see a lot of opportunity for business out there. The vibe I’m getting is very positive, and I think it reflects the optimism of the retail industry in general.”

Indeed, according to Peterson, advance registration is running about 4,000 ahead of 2005 when the event, which also includes a convention program and a trade expo, drew nearly 41,000. ICSC officials project total attendance in the 45,000 range this year.

The Leasing Mall continues to grow and has a substantial waiting list, and much of that growth this year has been in the leasing suites on the mezzanine level of the Las Vegas Convention Center. The main exhibit floor itself has been maxed out for years.

“Last year we had 84 leasing suites,” Peterson says. “This year we have 220.”

That number partially reflects one of the changes at this year’s event–the registration area has been moved to an area off the convention center’s grand lobby to make room for more leasing suites on the mezz level. For some of the exhibit floor spots that did open up for this year, “we have a number of new exhibitors, including several retailers,” Peterson says. “A lot of those are restaurants.”

There’s also been substantial exhibitor growth from the public sector, notably cities and other municipalities. “The public sector people have come to realize that the real estate industry makes a really good partner,” Peterson says. “They’ve come to realize that shopping centers do not kill downtown, but in working with developers and retailers they can revitalize and grow a city. They finally realize that we’re not the bad guys.”

This show has also gotten so big that major changes are in the works for 2007, including a substantial expansion, the details of which will be announced during this year’s event and will be reported by GSR. “We’ve cautioned our major exhibitors not to construct new exhibits or do major retrofits on their existing ones in anticipation of the changes,” she says.

In any event, any tips for attendees, especially first-timers, at this year’s Leasing Mall? “Preset your appointments,” Peterson advises. “This is an appointment-driven show, and you may not be able to just walk in and speak to someone. And plan your time wisely–your Leasing Mall and trade expo guide is your bible to the show.

“Also, always have your Spring Convention badge displayed–there have been some changes made in security at the show. Finally,” she concludes, “wear comfortable shoes.”

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