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Las Vegas ISCS RECon convention center president michael kercheval
There was no fear and loathing in Las Vegas yesterday, at least on the retail side. ICSC's RECon was in full swing, with over 30,000 attendees descending on the Las Vegas Convention Center to wheel, deal, and discover the hot trends. The five Bisnow staffers on the ground there ran out of fingers and toes trying to count the lunch crowd, above. ICSC prez Michael Kercheval says the attendees and exhibitors account for every continent except Antarctica (penny slots just aren't enough to draw the penguins into the desert). This includes three dozen firms from Japan and 100 new retailers. After contractions and closures, stores are expanding again, he points out. We're not at peak but back to ?03 levels.
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Economic indicators are headed in the right direction, says Taubman Centers COO Bill Taubman (left, with Michael, who thanked him for his '10-?11 ICSC chairman tenure). The retail centers deserve a lot a credit, Bill says: Rather than throwing their hands in the air, they responded with new fashions, products, and pricing, as well as listening even more to customers. ?We ultimately parted the clouds,? he says. However, unemployment is still high, banks are still not lending freely for retail, and consumers aren't spending as much money. But hope springs eternal for Bill, who has seen optimism not only in the US but in his travels to China, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Brazil, and Canada.
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Last night, JLL retail head Greg Maloney (second from right) told us ICSC has been much more upbeat than in the past three years. With him at ARIA's Haze nightclub, we snapped JLL markets CEO  Bill Krouc h, Gregory Greenfield & Associates? Greg Greenfield, and JLL?s Kristin Mueller. Much of the enthusiasm is from pent-up demand and a desire to hear good news, he points out. People rush to say everything?s great in retail, but it's actually a slow incline to recovery. Still, JLL is bullish enough to be  expanding retai l operations in Atlanta, Florida, and SoCal (plus those markets where it's continually growing: DC, Chicago, Dallas, and San Fran).
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Citigroup?s Paul Vanderslice says the CMBS market is a shadow of its former self, with $30B to $35B issued this year vs. $230B in the '07 peak. The good news: Investors are back. Mesa West Capital's Jeff Friedman calls this a market of haves and have-nots. Whether you're on the equity side or the debt side, ?we're all still fairly particular.? According to MetLife?s  Bill Markey, the ?new normal? looks a lot like what we're seeing right now. Walton Street Capital's Jay Weaver (next to moderator Leslie Lundin of LBG Realty Advisors) says his firm tries to invest significantly below replacement cost. The problem is that prices already are coming back toward replacement, presenting the risk that the cycle is recovering too quickly.
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Ignite Restaurant Group's Ed McGraw says Joe?s Crab Shack plans to shed some of its shack-like design. It's opening more than a dozen Joe?s and Brick House Tavern + Taps in the Mid-Atlantic, Northeast, and tourist markets this year. Energy Kitchen, a new restaurant with offerings all under 500 calories and using no oil or butter has 75 development deals in place, aiming for 1,000 locations in 10 years. Hooters' Mike Locey, who calls his restaurant the ?anti-Energy Kitchen,? says it plans to open 20 to 30 stores this year and 40 to 60 in 2012. Other tenants with expansion plans: AutoZone, Burlington Coat Factory, Chipotle, Darden (Olive Garden, Red Lobster, LongHorn), Great Clips, Hobby Lobby, Jos. A. Bank Clothiers, Kool Smiles, L.A. Fitness, Staples, The Fresh Market, Walgreens, Yogurtland, and 24 Hour Fitness. Also expanding: our waistline.