Much of the talk on the floor during Day 1 of the ICSC Spring Convention revolved around the larger than ever Leasing Mall that now contains 2 million square feet and spreads exhibitors across three halls rather than two. That extra 500,000 square feet, though, seems even larger given how long the trek between halls has gotten. It can now take 20 minutes or more to walk from one meeting to the next if you weren't careful about how you scheduled your meetings. I only wish I had brought a pedometer to log how many miles I racked up in traipsing from one hall to the next and back again to get to all my appointments.
The most positive take out of the new format is that the addition of so much space has meant that companies that in the past were relegated to leasing suites (or didn't have booths at all) now have a greater presence at the show. It's been eye-opening to see so many new faces and logos inhabiting the Leasing Mall. Many, many companies we talked to throughout the day were able to take advantage of the expansion to expand booths to great effect. That has helped tremendously ease some of the congestion that has come to mark the Spring Convention. While in the past it was not uncommon to have every nook and cranny of a booth jam-packed to accommodate all the deal making, the new jumbo-sized booths have afforded some much-needed breathing room.
The addition of so much space, in fact, has given the whole conference a lighter feel despite the fact that it has more attendees than ever before. Even with a reported 55,000 attendees--something like a 10,000 jump over last year--those people are spread out over much, much more space than the past. That has created an impression among some attendees that foot traffic is down this year despite all evidence to the contrary. Further, as we moved from one hall to the next, without fail people set up in booths in one hall--regardless of whether it was the North, Central or South Hall--would say they had heard their hall had the slowest traffic and that the two others were the real beneficiaries of the new setup. Our money is that is that ICSC has succeeded in creating more room for circulation, so people just aren't on top of one another as in the past. That makes it seem as if traffic is slow, but in reality it's just that the traffic jams have been broken up. It has been an adjustment getting used to the new addresses and finding out that a company that you were used to being in one place is now somewhere else, in all the larger Leasing Mall has been a great step.
And despite any criticisms of the new layout, we haven't heard a single complaint about dealmaking, which is what's really important in the end.