Economic Development and Real Estate

P3 conference examines city’s retail future

ICSC event brings public and private sectors together for panel discussions.

February 26, 2016
| By Pat Evans |
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Grand Rapids will have a better idea of its retail future next week.

Representatives from both the private and public sectors will convene Tuesday to discuss the region’s retail needs, ideas and direction at the International Council of Shopping Centers West Michigan P3 Retail Program at Grand Valley State University’s Loosemore Auditorium, 401 W. Fulton St.

The program is in its 14th year and returns following a hiatus last year, said the event’s co-chair, Doug Brown, ASTI Environmental director of development.

“We missed last year, and it’s changed a lot,” Brown said. “West Michigan is getting more of a national eye, and that’s a big change. We have Trader Joe’s, Chick-fil-A. Those are things we didn’t see when we first started.”

The P3 Program is the lone ICSC event held in West Michigan, which is relatively underserved in that sense by the global trade association of the shopping center industry, Brown said.

This year’s event will be highlighted by an idea from the event’s other co-chair, Kris Larson, the CEO of Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.

Larson suggested a portion of the afternoon should be dedicated to a “TED Talks” lineup of speakers rather than a single keynote speaker whose topic may not apply to all attendees. The four speakers will be Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss, Celebration! Cinema President J.D. Loeks, Third Coast Development Principal Brad Rosely and Orion Construction Director of Business Development John Wheeler.

“All these events have one keynote speaker going on for 45 minutes, and one size does not fit all,” Brown said. “Sometimes it’s a public official, developer, retailer, celebrity. We go through this every year. Kris just said, ‘You guys are crazy; give the audience a variety.’”

The second session of the afternoon will be a panel discussion on Redevelopment Ready Communities, led by Michigan Economic Development Corp. Manager Jennifer Rigterink and comprised of Rebecca Fleury, Battle Creek city manager; Jason Horton, Lormax Stern principal; and Rob Hillard, Allegan city manager.

The third session will be a West Michigan Development Update panel, moderated by Colliers International of West Michigan Principal Earl Clements, with CWD Real Estate Managing Partner Scott Wierda and Versa Companies Partner Greg Erne.

The ICSC is a bit of a misnomer, Larson said. The organization and participants are looking at indicators of where the retail market will be in the future. Larson said one of his roles with DGRI is to serve as a guide for the private sector to understand what the government is doing to help retail investment in the downtown area.

A big part of Tuesday’s conference is to share what’s happening in the city, what’s possible and what’s planned, he said.

“Retail investments are not a function of today as much as they are also a function of tomorrow,” he said. “You have a lot of industries that want to be on the leading edge, and the P3 conference is an evolved take on creating more cooperative relationships between public and private sectors as it relates to retail investment.”

The event ends with an evening networking reception, which Brown described as the best part of the day. As Larson notes, it’s not the huge annual ICSC convention that takes up 2 million square feet of space; the local program brings together those who are locally invested in making West Michigan a better place, Brown said.

“The heart of this event is all about deal making,” Brown said. “The ICSC puts on great programs, and they’re out there to make deals happen and put public and private together. This puts everyone on the same page and to see what can come together.

“At the end of the day, the noise goes up, people branch off and deals happen.”

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