Jodi’s Journal: What happens in Vegas

May 19, 2019

I’ve lost track of how many years I’ve spent the third week in May at the International Council of Shopping Centers’ annual RECON convention, but as I head to the Las Vegas Convention Center again this year, it’s with a little different perspective.

First, a bit of disclosure:

While I go to the world’s largest retail real estate convention as a reporter – and I enjoy sharing stories throughout the week on national retail and its connection to Sioux Falls – I also go to RECON to learn.

I learn about the changing forces in this industry, which is one of the largest in Sioux Falls. I learn about what businesses and business trends are emerging, so I can watch for them in our city. I learn who the players are so that I can come back to them, sometimes years later, when they’re ready to share news about our market.

And sometimes I learn things that prove valuable long after I’ve left Las Vegas.

This week was one of those times. Several years ago, I attended a session at RECON that included Bob Stark, a major developer from my hometown, Cleveland. At the time, he was in the middle of a big project that included – wait for it –redeveloping a downtown parking lot into a mixed-use, public-private project.

He was asked to talk about the necessary ingredients for making such arrangements successful, and his words were ringing in my head last week as the city of Sioux Falls severed ties with developers over  a mixed-use parking ramp project downton.

Cities, he said, should do business with “the people you know and trust and who you respect what they do. You’re investing together. You’re dreaming together. You’re displaying your passion, and you better really love each other.”

Village on the River was perhaps the most tightly intertwined public-private partnership in Sioux Falls history. It was meant to be a decades-long relationship. And while I do not know exactly how this entire thing came together and then unraveled, I suspect that if it wasn’t working already, it’s probably best for both to go their separate ways.

I think the saddest thing I saw as this project broke apart last week was a comment a citizen left online. I’m paraphrasing, but it was something like: “See, Sioux Falls? You’re not as great as you think you are. You were thinking too big. You don’t need and can’t support a high-rise hotel.”

That’s just not true. There are too many other examples current and forthcoming that show this city is perfectly capable of supporting a development on the scale of Village on the River if the right factors are present.

And I’m guessing this parking ramp site eventually will include private development too. There’s already going to be on-site parking. It’s in a favorable location in the middle of downtown. There will be other interested partners at some point. But I don’t think the city needs to be in a hurry to find them – especially given the level of additional development we anticipate happening elsewhere downtown. I’d rather wait for the project that makes the highest and best use of what we’ve got than rush to do one that doesn’t.

And while we absolutely have to learn something from this failed deal and strive for accountability wherever it’s determined to be deserved, we can’t let it make us shy away from other opportunities.

Those public-private partnerships, as Stark told a standing-room crowd in Las Vegas, aren’t just important for cities. “They’re absolute. They’re critical. You can’t do it without them,” he said.

“If you’re setting out to do something transformational for your city, it’s impossible to do it with only private money.”

It’s not the message I expected to deliver ahead of this year’s retail convention. But it’s a perfect illustration of why I continue to invest in this trip, which takes a lot of time and resources.

This week, I’ll talk with national retail experts, local Sioux Falls commercial real estate agents and retailers themselves to hopefully create a weeklong narrative about who’s growing, who’s struggling and how our city is positioned both for the opportunities and threats that this rapidly changing industry presents.

Candidly, as I’m out there reporting, I also sometimes wrestle with how much to say and when to say it.

The process of working with national retailers to secure locations seems to be taking as long as I can remember. Sometimes all we know is that the retailer plans to eventually be in our market. Sometimes we aren’t part of their current growth plan. Sometimes there’s a need for a franchisee first. Sometimes they’re looking for locations but haven’t found one yet. Sometimes the lease is literally days away from being done.

At what stage of the process should I tell you about it, I ask myself. When do you want to know? When is it considered newsworthy? Those answers vary depending on whom I ask. There are some readers who probably would watch live as I went from booth to booth talking to businesses no matter what happened. There are others who criticize me for running stories about certain retailers if I don’t have enough definite timeframes or commitments from them. I do my best to strike a balance. I tend to err toward telling you what I know even when it involves some things I don’t know.

These are popular stories with readers because many know national chains from other markets and can’t wait to welcome them to Sioux Falls. I understand that. And I always try to structure coverage with the reader in mind, most importantly making sure what I tell you is as accurate as I have the ability to confirm or determine. It’s about bringing you the best look I can provide about an industry that touches all of us in some way.

You might remember me saying that I love to cover retail because it’s so often on the leading edge of all business. That continues to be true. Whether we’re talking about customer experience, artificial intelligence, augmented reality or the on-demand economy, this industry figures it out and often others follow its lead.

I hope you enjoy our upcoming week of coverage. Send me your retail questions, either at or through social media, and I’ll do my best to get them answered.

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Jodi’s Journal: What happens in Vegas

What do Las Vegas, the world’s largest retail real estate convention and the mixed-used parking ramp project in downtown Sioux Falls have in common? Read on.

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