The 48th annual US Shopping Center Law Conference was held last week from October 24-27 at the JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes in Orlando Florida. The conference saw a near-record number of attendees, where almost 1500 people gathered to learn, network and collaborate. This year’s program included several new sessions which were well-received by attendees—including a program about unconscious bias and how to spot it in the workplace. Also tackling workplace issues was keynote speaker John U. Bacon, a New York Times best-selling author, who focused on diversity, inclusion and other issues we face in the work environment. ICSC also hosted its inaugural diversity reception, providing networking opportunities for lawyers across all backgrounds.
The conference offered sessions for all levels of the retail practitioner. At one end of the spectrum was the leasing symposium which covered several basic leasing topics. There were also advanced topics, including one on reciprocal easement agreements and another on shopping center financing in today’s capital markets.
It is clear that the retail industry is in a time of great transition. As a result, sessions focused on mixed-use environments and the realities of anchor downsizing and closures were host to standing-room-only crowds. Additionally, with the expansion of the cannabis industry, the workshop and round tables exploring the issues of inconsistent state and federal laws, ethics, malpractice insurance and the all-cash nature of the business and associated security concerns were also filled to capacity.
The energy of the conference was very high and positive. Attendees recognize that the industry is changing and several sessions focused on the disruption caused by the internet and smartphones. The impact of the internet on brick-and-mortar, the vacancies caused by bankruptcies and the continuing downsizing of retail prototypes continue to create change. We learned that these changes can produce anxiety, but that they can also present great opportunity. Without a crystal ball, it’s unclear exactly what today’s enclosed mall or shopping center will look like in the future. But one thing that was clear in the discussions in the halls and at the sessions was that brick-and-mortar retail will survive—and thrive—alongside the internet.
In keeping with the spirit of change, the ICSC is changing the conference schedule for 2019 to eliminate the Saturday sessions. The content will remain the same - with offerings reflecting the full range of the industry - but the conference will be consolidated into 3 days.