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The economy is going great guns, and that means the International Council of Shopping Centers' Annual Spring Convention will be large and lively. In keeping with a long tradition, the event will take place in Nevada's desert jewel, Las Vegas, from May 21 through May 25, 2000.

"We're expecting a good show," says ICSC spokesman Malachy Kavanagh. "Last year we had 27,000 people. We should surpass that because it is also our World Congress of Shopping Centers (a gathering of international delegations that happens every five years). The economy remains strong. All ICSC meetings at the end of last year and into this year have been strong, so we're expecting to have great attendance and a lot of deal-making."

Because of the explosion in e-commerce, this year's sessions should be even more animated than usual, Kavanagh adds. The leasing mall will occupy more than 1 million sq. ft. of space at the convention center.

"A huge issue right now is the Internet tax freedom," Kavanagh says. "There are plenty of political candidates claiming that the Internet should be tax free. We view that it shouldn't, that the Internet should tax at the same rate as any brick-and-mortar store. Certainly that's one issue. Bankruptcy is another issue. Those are political issues."

And if those weren't political issues before, they will be at the convention. James Carville, political consultant and Clinton administration insider, and William Kristol, editor and publisher of The Weekly Standard, a conservative political and social opinion magazine based in Washington, D.C., will face off for a point-counterpoint discussion in the blockbuster general session May 22.

Also on Monday at the opening breakfast, Thomas L. Friedman, columnist for The New York Times will speak on "Understanding Globalization." "We've seen a lot of mergers where, for example, Wal-Mart has gone overseas and vice versa," Kavanagh says. "Retailers are coming to the United States and acquiring American companies, particularly in the supermarket industry. It really has created international retail presence."

The session, "Retail and Development Opportunities Through Public/Private Partnerships," will take a look at the many new "old" real estate opportunities in America's cities. Downtown retail is exploding, and neighborhoods once considered unattractive are bringing bottom-line returns for those who are investing. In this session, mayors from key cities will discuss the challenges of downtown retail as well as address the issue of taxing Internet sales.

Another session, "The Master Merchants: Retail Formats, Store Concept, the Internet and Other Trends," will be chaired by Edward R.S. Whitefield of Management Horizons Europe Limited, London. Whitefield has more than 20 years of practical experience in retailing and has undertaken analytical evaluations and customer shopping research projects throughout Western and Eastern Europe, handled through various offices in London, Paris, Frankfurt, Madrid and Milan.

The session will address retail formats - such as sportswear, trendy fashions, entertainment, designer fashions and gifts - that appear and disappear.

What are the new store concepts operating in shopping centers and on the street? What makes these retailers highly desirable to shopping center developers? How do you determine the life cycle of these retailers to avoid making leasing mistakes?

Among the topics up for discussion: how some concepts are easily converted to alternative uses; what to do when retail concepts reach the top of the curve and begin their rapid slide downward; how to plan for the next generation of consumers; and how the Internet will affect existing stores and future development of stores.

Shopping center professionals in all categories will want to catch "Beyond Generation X - Managing and Motivating Today's New Work Force," with speaker Claire Raines, author and organizational consultant.

"I've heard her speak," Kavanagh says. "She's pretty interesting. And Generation X is a different breed."

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