New York Hold `Em in Vegas

Gene Spiegelman, an executive vice president at Cushman & Wakefield, has tallied several major awards in his nearly 25 years in the business-including a pair of REBNY ‘Retail Deal of the Year’ awards for his work with Crate & Barrel and Diesel. Accolades aside, the broker still counts the annual International Council of Shopping Centers conference in Las Vegas as a singular event. Mr. Spiegelman, 46, talked about the clients he’s snagged there and why it holds a special meaning for him.

The Commercial Observer: How do you prepare for the International Council of Shopping Centers every year?

Mr. Spiegelman: The ICSC preparation almost takes place once we leave the year before. And this year will be an anniversary of sorts for me: It’s my 18th year attending, and I first started in the retail leasing part of the industry 18 years ago; it was May 17, 1993. That was my first day on the job at was then the Edward S. Gordon Company.

I was hired into the retail-leasing group, and my first day on the job was at ICSC. I never reported to the office–I reported to the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas.


So, on-the-job training…

Yes, it was definitely on-the-job training, and, for that reason alone, ICSC has always had a very special meaning for me from that perspective. I was a real estate broker for about five years prior to really getting into the retail industry and coming into Manhattan and working for the Edward S. Gordon Company at the time.


How has the event and Las Vegas changed since your first visit in 1993?

The event has grown, and it’s widened to many more disciplines. Where it was primarily shopping center owners and tenants and the retail brokers, it’s now the attorneys and the architects and so many different types of vendors. It’s certainly become global, and it wasn’t global when I started in 1993.

And there are so many more aspects of the global economy involved with it now, and global shopping centers and global retail, which is sort of a major part of what we do.


Do you always stay in the same hotels, have client dinners at the same restaurants and so on, or do you change it up?

What I sort of find amusing is, every year from 1993 on, we would stay at a different hotel, particularly in the 1990s, when they were building new properties each year. Each year you went out there would be new hotels, and when I went out there in 1993, the hottest hotel was the Mirage, which opened a few years earlier. And then came the Ceasars expansion, and then came Mandalay, and then the Bellagio and so forth and so on. So I sort of saw the city grow up as I grew up.


Eighteen years ago where were the client dinners being held? Back then, it seems, it was predominantly buffets. Certainly, there weren’t as many fine dining options.

There are so many more options now, but we definitely never were taking them to the buffets. The Forum Shoppes had just opened a year prior to when I started going there, and the big restaurant was Spago, and also the Palm was there–so we spent a lot of time going to the Forum Shoppes.

But the restaurants kept coming year after year. It used to be incredibly hard to get reservations because there were so few restaurants-but, now, there’s so many choices. It’s changed a lot that way.


Do you have much time in between the event itself and client dinners to walk the Las Vegas strip, gamble or otherwise just have time to yourself?

I’m personally not a gambler, but this year I’ll have a little time. I’m going on Friday, so my wife gave me a few extra days. The business aspect of it, the meetings and the dinners really start on Sunday.

But it’s networking from the minute you get off the airplane because it’s actually having time to spend with other people you know in the industry outside of New York City and outside of the office. But just to chat with people outside of the office can be very productive, and it’s enjoyable, too. Some people dread going to Las Vegas-I’m not one of them.


What retail trends do you anticipate will be hot topics this year that weren’t last year?

I think if you’re a retailer it’s about top-line revenue growth and bottom-line profitability. It’s a constant challenge to remain relevant, and from just a retail perspective they’re very selective about their real estate choices: where will they open stores and how much will they spend on these stores-and even looking at what stores they will close through natural attrition. So many U.S. brands have reached maturity here that they’re now looking to Asia and Europe for expansion.


Last year, you were involved in the negotiations for a deal with Century 21 on the Upper West Side. But when the deal was actually done, most media attention turned to the Barnes & Noble that was closing at that site. How frequently does that happen, where more attention is paid to the store that’s closing than the one that’s opening?

Not often. That was a very iconic store, that Barnes & Noble store, and the closing came as no surprise to myself or the landlord. But here’s the best part of the story: My contact with the principal of Century 21 occurred at ICSC on a Saturday at the swimming pool at Encore. I was introduced to the principal, and I was told that he was looking to expand in New York, and I told him that I might have something for him. I actually met him at ICSC, and this was two years out before Barnes & Noble’s lease was going to expire and a year before they had an option to renew.

So I went to the landlord, Melinnium Partners, and I said, ‘My gut is Barnes & Noble isn’t going to extend. I see what’s going on in the world and I don’t see them extending.’ And I said, ‘Should I start talking to somebody?,’ and the answer that came back was ‘Yes.’ And I told how I had met somebody, at the pool on a Saturday at ICSC in Las Vegas. New York Hold `Em in Vegas