Courtesy of Citybizlist – Every spring, increasing numbers of Greater Baltimore’s real estate professionals head off to Las Vegas for a commercial leasing real estate conference known by the acronym ICSC. While I have been hearing about this conference for a while, for reasons lost even to me, I headed off to join the fun and figure out what this annual sojourn was about. You need to take this column with a grain of salt; as this was my first trip to Vegas, I found the whole experience a tad surreal.
Well over 1,200 of Greater Baltimore’s real estate developers, bankers, leasing professionals, attorneys and others join up with assorted politicians and economic development professionals, from Baltimore’s Mayor to our Lieutenant Governor. The journey starts weirdly, with everyone on the same set of flights out (and back) and all converging to check in at the same hotel – The Wynn. Dozens of Maryland real estate related companies sponsor a series of hospitality suites (read: cabanas around a pool) and competing receptions so that there is no escaping fellow Marylanders for the 72 hours you’re together. To top it off, there is a Maryland “only” party that no one misses (if for no other reason than to see who will make their mark on Facebook this year)… So Maryland’s real estate community heads off to Vegas to spend time with…. Hold the thought… with Maryland’s real estate community…
The Sun had a curious take on the conference last Sunday. They turned the event into a math exercise – basically counting how many public officials went to Vegas. The information request inevitably to follow from the Sun will be to add up the associated costs. This thorough reporting got me thinking about whether this trip makes sense for our region – what exactly are we investing our tax dollars in supporting?
Most who read this column realize that I have nothing to do with real estate. I found it ineffable that essentially all of Baltimore’s commercial real estate community would head out of town to spend time with each other. But that is exactly what makes this conference work. When I asked folks why they were there, I couldn’t count the number of times that I heard one of two responses – either there was some person that they simply couldn’t pin down in Baltimore that they could corner at The Wynn or Maryland Party, or reflected that you would never find this group of people together in one place at one time in Baltimore. So everyone packs up and goes to Vegas to be with each other. It is a strange convergence but there is a collective sense that it does seem to keep a highly competitive community synchronized.
I got to thinking about a community I know a bit more about – our tech community. It used to be that the GBTC’s Tech Night served such a synchronizing role – although far more concentrated in time and, given the crowds, a bit more chaotic in terms of connecting a community. This also left me wondering about all the competing efforts to support the tech community from most organizations in town, including the GBC, EA, and GBTC, and from afar like the TCM and CRTC… And I began to think about how cool it would be to get away from the “supporting” organizations vying for mindshare to a place where one could find the vast majority of tech entrepreneurs and their advisors and funders interacting directly – certainly the goals of those involved would vary, from simply reconnecting, to catching up, to striking a deal, to resetting a relationship, to competing for funding or opportunity.