- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 23, 2007

LAS VEGAS — Washington-area economic development officials completed a whirlwind round of conversations with retailers and developers this week, hoping to spur retail growth in the region.

More than 140 D.C. businesses descended on Las Vegas for the International Council of Shopping Centers’ annual convention, the largest of its kind.

Now that retailers have been drawn by the recent success of downtown businesses, city officials hope to lure that interest into the city’s neighborhoods.

“It’s about exposing retailers to underserved areas of the city,” said Neil Albert, deputy mayor for planning and economic development.

The city met with more than 75 retailers and developers, according to the Washington, DC, Economic Partnership, which heads the city’s retail effort.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said the city met with nearly all big-box retailers, including department, discount and home-supply chains. The city did not meet with Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

The areas east of the Anacostia River — the Shops at Park Village, Penn Branch shopping center and Washington Gateway — received a majority of attention during the convention, as well as the district around the Washington Nationals’ new baseball stadium, the Southwest waterfront, Georgia and Minnesota avenues Northeast and the old Convention Center site.

Mr. Fenty reiterated that the Skyland Shopping Center, the struggling venue on the verge of redevelopment in Ward 7, is one of his top priorities.

“Skyland was mentioned in probably 25 percent or more of our meetings,” he said.

Both the city and Prince George’s County, which also had officials at the convention, expressed particular interest in attracting Nordstrom, one of the highest-profile luxury retailers.

“There’s strong interest on our part to bring Nordstrom to the city,” Mr. Fenty said.

Nordstrom has stores in the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City, Westfield Montgomery, Tysons Corner Center and the Mall in Columbia (Md.).

The retailer would be a major coup for either jurisdiction.

“We’re very, very interested in Nordstrom and Saks,” said Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson. “We’re interested in high-end retailers.”

Mr. Johnson was one of about 700 developers and city, county and state officials attending the convention from Maryland, according to the state Department of Business and Economic Development (DBED).

The Maryland effort cost about $160,000, DBED estimated.

Gov. Martin O’Malley and DBED Secretary David Edgerley led the group, which also focused on bringing retailers to older communities in the state, namely inside the Capital and Baltimore beltways.

“You have to be able to bring in a mix of amenities to the older neighborhoods,” said Mr. O’Malley, who is thought to be the only governor attending the convention. “If we leave [retail development] to market forces, those older neighborhoods will not be served.”

Five D.C. Council members made the trip — Vincent C. Gray, Harry Thomas Jr., Jack Evans, Marion Barry and Kwame Brown. It was thought to be the largest delegation of council members to attend the conference.

“Having so many leaders here is a powerful image that we’re serious about development,” said Mr. Gray, council chairman and Ward 7 Democrat.

Tax increment financing agreements and infrastructure assistance were discussed with retailers, Mr. Evans and Mr. Brown said.

“We want to use the tools we used to generate Gallery Place in the neighborhoods,” Mr. Brown said.

The city’s booth, expanded from 600 to 2,000 square feet this year, cost about $300,000. Approximately $120,000 was raised from local developers.

The total cost to the city for the convention, which includes the city-sponsored networking reception, was not immediately available.

Many in the delegations stressed how selective they can be about which retailers come to town, compared with seven or more years ago, when the District was begging retailers to meet with them at the convention and Maryland didn’t even have a booth.

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm from outside developers and retailers about what’s happening in D.C.,” said Keith Sellars, vice president of retail and development at the Economic Partnership.

“I’ve been coming to this for five years,” Mr. Johnson said. “The difference between the first year and now is the difference between night and day.”

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