Summey OrrThis week, more than 30,000 members of the retail real estate sector gathered in Las Vegas for the International Council of Shopping Centers’ annual RECon 2012 conference and trade show. Many of our own attorneys were there, and we got a chance to speak with Managing Partner Summey Orr about the show, the mood of the attendees, trends that were discussed at the conference … and a surprising Elvis impersonator.

HS: Coming out of the show, how optimistic or pessimistic are you about the overall performance of retail real estate for the remainder of this year and 2013?

Orr: I found the vibe in Las Vegas to be very optimistic. ICSC RECon is a pretty reliable barometer of the mood of the industry. If you lived in a cave and only came out once a year, in May, and wandered around the Las Vegas Convention Center, you could tell immediately where the retail market was.

In 2010, the place was half empty, with most of us just standing in line at the Auntie Anne’s booth loading up on free pretzels. This year, there was a big, bustling crowd, with people nearly knocking you down in the aisles trying to get to their next appointments. That’s a good sign that activity is trending up.

HS: One of the articles about the show said attendees didn't expect retail development to reignite in earnest for at least another two years. Is that a view you share?

Orr: That may be, but remember, that’s talking about new development. The lending markets are probably not going to be overly friendly to anything but the most promising new retail developments for the next year or two. That doesn’t mean we won’t have activity, just not activity in the form of a wave of new projects. People read articles like that and think dark thoughts, but the truth is there is room for a lot of activity today, including the redevelopment of old projects, without a host of new developments.

HS: After getting a chance to mingle with industry figures from around the country, what's your sense of what kind of retailers are enjoying the most leasing activity and what kind of establishments are still struggling?

Orr: What we are hearing and seeing is that the retailers on the high, luxury end and on the discount end seem to be the quickest out of the blocks. The folks in between those sectors are just now starting to see solid activity.

HS: What were some of the industry trends discussed at the show that you were most struck by?

Orr: Many of us noticed the number of new players in the market, both retailers and developers, with new people and new ideas. I think that’s healthy and another good sign that we’re moving in the right direction. The other trend I noticed is the flock toward utilizing social media any way you can, no matter what segment of the business you’re in. There was a lot of social media about the conference itself. Lots of blogging about the tweets, and tweeting about the blogs, all week.

HS: Extra question: Did you get a chance to see any shows or hang out with any Elvis impersonators?

Orr: I did not see any shows, and the closest I got to an Elvis impersonation was Peter Hartman at the Hartman Simons party on Sunday night of the conference. I’m not at liberty to say whether he was impersonating a young, right-out-of-the-Army, svelte Elvis, or an older, donut-gobbling, rhinestone-clad Elvis. The whole “what happens in Vegas” thing, you know. But he’s good.