Viva Las Vegas for Bradenton Herald retail reporter

May 18, 2014 

LAS VEGAS

By the time you read this, I will be in Las Vegas watching shopping center developers and retail stores put on their best poker faces to land deals.

The International Council of Shopping Centers is hosting the annual Global Retail Real Estate Convention, or RECon, at the Las Vegas Convention Center through Tuesday. Local companies like University Park's Benderson Development Co. can get face time with representatives from retailers and restaurants from Bojangles to Verizon, AutoZone to Walmart. Area representatives from Colliers International, Sperry Van Ness and Casto can see what's brewing at Starbucks or out-of-market companies like Tim Horton's to gauge their interest in coming to Bradenton-Sarasota.

"It is the largest gathering of retail real estate professionals in the world, so most of the people in the industry are under one roof at one time at RECon," ICSC spokesman Jesse Tron said.

More than 33,000 people are registered for the convention, which takes a good 30 minutes to walk end-to-end, I'm told. There's the Leasing Mall where landlords and leasing professionals meet with retailers, architects and lenders and the Marketplace Mall, a vendor trade show touting their latest products.

"We have 1,100 exhibits at the show and cover over a million square feet," Tron added.

I'll get glimpses of what's coming to the Mall at University Town Center; Benderson's neighbor

ing mixed-use retail project, set for development; and Casto's Town Center at University Groves, which so far features Culver's Frozen Custard and ButterBurgers. Suppliers, lenders and stores will line up to say they're all-in during this appointment-driven show.

"Anything you might want in a shopping center or a commercial property in general," Tron said.

This is the first time the Bradenton Herald is sending a reporter to RECon in at least a decade, highlighting just how important retail growth has become. The Bradenton area is seeing more and more retail projects coming out of the recession -- especially in the booming University Park area.

Make sure you pick up the Bradenton Herald each day this week for news coming out of the convention, and visit Bradenton.com and my tweets from the convention @ImYourChuck.

As the housing market continues to heat up here, retail will continue to follow -- and it will not stop at the mall. Parrish is resuming some large projects as communities nearing 2,000 homes have been approved with retail components. In West Bradenton, Long Bar Pointe and Whiting Preston's Lake Flores will draw families and retailers.

There's plenty of room for more retail as the market is underserved, according to figures compiled by Taubman Centers, the developer of the Mall at University Town Center that is set to open Oct. 16.

Mall general manager Octavio "Tav" Ortiz showed that the trade market here, from St. Petersburg to Fort Myers, is 36 percent below the national average for leasable square feet per capita. Zeroing in on the Bradenton-Sarasota market, the 5.2 square feet per capita is well below the 7.2 square feet statewide.

Not only is the local retail climate improving, but so is the national one, as convention attendance shows.

"The economy wasn't in a U-shape recovery, it was a slow measured growth of a recovery and that's exactly what we're seeing in attendees," Tron said, noting that exhibitors have increased as well.

The convention offers 25 educational workshops, speakers like Twitter's founder Biz Stone and the U.S. Shopping Center MAXI awards -- and even a poolside party or two.

What happens with these deals in Vegas certainly won't stay in Vegas, no matter the venue or cocktail in hand.

"Business never stops," Tron said.

Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.

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