Despite tightened budgets among local governments nationwide, representatives of municipalities and economic development groups are heading to RECon in force to court retail development at the Cities of the World Pavilion. Hundreds of city representatives attend RECon each year, and many of them rent exhibit space to showcase their incentive programs and other opportunities for retailers and retail developers. But diminishing real estate values have hurt tax revenues, forcing many municipalities to slash budgets.
ICSC is introducing the Cities of the World Pavilion this year to give these entities a more affordable alternative to designing and building conventional booth space. The pavilion provides hard-walled enclosures ready for exhibitors to move in and set up shop, reducing their costs even as the pavilion creates a single, high-traffic destination. “As the economy is on the mend, public-private partnerships will play an even greater role in retail real estate development, so it’s important for the public sector and the private sector to work together to achieve both of their goals,” said Cindy Stewart, ICSC’s director of community relations. “ICSC understands the importance of cities to retail and retail development and wanted to give them a higher profile, which is why we created the Cities of the World Pavilion.”
Many of the pavilion’s roughly 70 exhibitors have made RECon attendance a priority for years. Ponca City (Okla.) Development Authority returns for its fifth year, with plans to target restaurants and retailers, children’s apparel sellers in particular. At past RECon meetings, foot traffic past the Ponca City booth generated many productive encounters with developers and retailers, says Rich Cantillon, president of the Ponca City Chamber of Commerce. And each year the mayor visits retailers that already have a presence in Ponca City to thank them for their business. Budget tightening has made RECon attendance essential to economic growth, Cantillon says. “We need to be out there hustling retailers to locate in our communities, because of the [diminishing] tax base,” he said. “That’s why we attend: We want to be competitive.”
RECon offers cities a networking opportunity like no other, says Kate Ham, financial manager for economic development with the city of Auburn, Ala. “It’s the one time of year when all of the developers, retailers, municipalities and industrial boards are all together in one place, so you can arrange meetings you probably wouldn’t otherwise be able to facilitate,” Ham said. The Auburn team wants to promote both new retail development and redevelopment of existing retail real estate. Representatives will be touting the city’s favorable tax environment and strong educational offerings. “We’re home to Auburn University, a large South East Conference school, and we reap the benefits of having a very high educational focus in our community,” Ham said. “Our public schools are highly ranked nationwide and are some of the top schools in our state.”
Some communities join forces to increase their clout with a regional approach to economic development. The San Gabriel Valley Economic Partnership includes some 30 cities and unincorporated communities among its members and is exhibiting at RECon for its third year to promote its Southern California markets. “We’re promoting the San Gabriel Valley not only as a place to work, but to live, work, play,” said Antoinette Lou, the partnership’s director of marketing and operations. “We’re an hour from the beach, an hour from the mountains and an hour from the desert.”
Vancouver, British Columbia–based Linx BC, that province’s economic development team, is another example of several communities working together. “We represent most of the communities in British Columbia,” said Dale Wheeldon, CEO of Linx BC. The team’s exhibit will be hawking the region’s competitive tax rates, pro-business government and strong economy as it invites retailers and developers to join one of the fastest-growing regional economies in North America. Wheeldon says he is pleased to see the city exhibits gathered together where they will all benefit from the pavilion’s traffic. “Those people that are going to be going through that section are the people that are going to be really interested in exploring the opportunities throughout the different areas, so you know your audience is targeted,” he said.
Hesperia, Calif., is pursuing its marketing goals along several fronts, with advertising, Twitter tweets and literature all coordinated to promote its Hesperia Headliners: local retail and real estate personalities who will be at the booth sharing testimonials about the benefits of doing business in the community. “We’ve taken big advantage of what ICSC has been able to offer in terms of marketing opportunities,” said Lisa LaMere, an economic development management analyst for the city of Hesperia. Relationships Hesperia formed at previous RECons have resulted in numerous restaurant and store openings in the city, including a Golden Corral, an IHOP, a Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft store, a Super Target and a Walmart Supercenter. “We invest heavily in marketing for the event, and without a doubt the investment pays off,” LaMere said.
Even a community that cannot spare the cost of sending a representative to RECon can draw attention to its development sites and retail opportunities by participating in the Cities of the World Showcase. Located in the Grand Lobby, the showcase presents graphic renderings and literature provided by cities from around the world, highlighting retail activity and directions to the booths of those that have one.
RECon attendees can learn about the latest development incentive practices and trends in public-private partnerships at the general session at 4 p.m. on Monday. In “America’s Cities: Rebuilding, Revitalizing, Redeveloping,” mayors will share success stories in a discussion of economic development programs with a focus on shopping centers.
“Cities continue to be proactive in their retail recruitment,” said Stewart. “They may be getting more creative in their incentives with today’s economic challenges, but they still understand the value of retail development to their communities.”