LAS VEGAS – On the flight from New York City to Las Vegas this past Saturday, I overheard someone ask why the annual ICSC RECon conference is held in Vegas every year. “Why not Miami, or L.A. or San Francisco?ˮ the man griped to his friend. It’s a fair question.
Not far from the Las Vegas Convention Center, where RECon is held every year, is the Riviera Hotel. Opened in 1955, the hotel has a storied history, and was once famous for featuring performers like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.
But now, the hotel is shutting down, and instead of displaying featured acts, its towering marquee announces its liquidation sale, and thanks the city for “60 Wonderful Years!ˮ It’s not an uncommon trend — in Las Vegas, hotels seemingly “re-inventˮ and re-brand themselves every year.
The Flamingo Capri hotel became Imperial Palace, which then became The Quad Hotel in 2012 and, more recently, The LINQ Hotel and Casino. In 2007, the Aladdin Resort & Casino became Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino, and The Las Vegas Hilton transformed into Westgate Las Vegas Resort and Casino.
Why hold the country’s largest retail conference here? Because just like the retail industry, it’s a city that is constantly evolving and reinventing itself.
From online retailers to large-scale food markets, retail is always adapting to what consumers want. And according to industry experts, more than ever, shoppers are looking for “experiences.ˮ
“It’s not that the consumer wants you to take it to zero post-recession, they want a special experience,ˮ Sarah Quinlan of MasterCard Advisors told the audience at a retail insights panel at RECon on Sunday.
BFC Partners’ highly-anticipated Empire Outlets is one of those projects looking to build a fully-integrated shopping experience — incorporating an outlet mall, observation wheel, and hotel on Staten Island’s north shore.
“Commerce isn’t going away, but the way it happens is changing,ˮ said BFC Partners principal, Joseph Ferrara.
The project, estimated to cost between $250 and $275 million, will be the first outlet mall in New York City proper, and will include 340,000 square feet of retail space, a 190-room hotel featuring a rooftop venue with waterfront views, a 1,250-space structured parking garage, and a 40,000 s/f food and beverage deck.
Here at RECon, Ferrara is promoting Empire Outlets, a project that is now nearly halfway leased. Ferrara said he is in discussions with “quite a fewˮ luxury tenants, and had just signed a big deal, but wouldn’t reveal what it was. The firm is also promoting the 625-foot tall New York Wheel, which once completed, will be the world’s largest observation wheel.
“The most important thing about being here is branding and getting yourself out there,ˮ said Ferrara. “The energy is always good here in Vegas.ˮ
ICSC announced yesterday that total attendance at this year’s event hit 35,000, surpassing last year’s high of 33,000, pointing to a strong economy and healthy industry.
Despite an ominous thunderstorm Monday morning than extended into the afternoon, by evening the clouds had parted and the party circuit went into full swing, with JLL’s party at Chateau at the Paris hotel, Cushman & Wakefield’s poolside bash at the Four Seasons, NGKF’s fete at Marquee at the Cosmopolitan, and Eastern Union’s shindig at Encore Beach Club.
Paul Massey told Real Estate Weekly at Cushman & Wakefield’s party that the move to C&W has gone smoothly for the former Massey Knakal agents, and that “everyone’s happy.ˮ
And when not party-hopping, NYC-based brokers reported being booked solid with meetings during the whirlwind event, which starts early and goes late.
“There’s a lot of optimism,ˮ said Douglas Elliman retail chair Faith Hope Consolo, who had several meetings with European retailers on Monday. “Despite all the crises, and the rents, everyone still wants to be in New York.ˮ