$44,000 Vegas retail conference cost irks some on Aurora city council

Various city officials have regularly attended the conference aimed at big-wig retailers and developers for the better part of the past decade, slowly ramping up their efforts at each iteration, according to Mayor Steve Hogan

AURORA | About half a dozen city staffers will head to Las Vegas next month to the annual International Council of Shopping Centers conference to woo potential developers interested in erecting retail projects in the city. The way in which the trip has been financed, though, has irked several city council members.

Various city officials have regularly attended the conference aimed at big-wig retailers and developers for the better part of the past decade, slowly ramping up their efforts at each iteration, according to Mayor Steve Hogan. The conference, which is expected to attract about 37,000 people from 58 different countries, according to the ICSC website, is one of the premier events for the city to showcase its assets to potential developers.

“We were a billboard and then the second year we were more kind of a meeting (space) slash billboard and then what happened is we realized people want to come and talk business,” said Tim Gonerka, the city’s retail specialist. “We’re way ahead of any other city on this.”

This year, the city will debut a swank suite to hold hundreds of meetings during the three-day conference. The 20-by-20 space, designed by Denver-based firm Condit, will feature digital maps, marketing materials and a fully-equipped conference room for closed-door meetings.

“Most cities take 10-by-10s, they put out a table and keychains,” Gonerka said. “And the idea is that if we’re going to do this, we want to do it right. And it is expensive, but we feel like one good development pays for a whole year of this … one year of Stanley (Marketplace) receipts pays for this.”

The city invited developers behind Aurora’s new Stanley Marketplace to attend the conference several years ago — a trip that helped solidify the developers’ decision to move forward with the project, according to Hogan.

“It made a huge diffence in their determinations to go forward with completion of the project,” he said. “There wouldn’t be a Stanley Marketplace if the developers hadn’t been with the city at the ICSC conference.”

Officials are expected to hold nearly 200 short meetings with conference attendees during the event May 21-24. Last year, the city held 184 meetings during the conference, according to Gonerka.

Both Gonerka and Hogan pointed to the new Serenity Ridge development in south Aurora as another project that was parlayed from previous talks at the ICSC show.

Still, the lofty and somewhat unexpected price tag for this year’s conference nettled several city council members.

City officials recently approved writing a last-minute, approximately $44,000 check to cover the costs of the tricked-out event booth for the event, the timing of which peeved Councilman Charlie Richardson in particular.

“This conference has been going on for years, so the need to pay a premium for emergency preparation of materials is a huge waste of taxpayer funds,” Councilman Charlie Richardson wrote in an April 10 email to other council members.

Councilwoman Barb Cleland, too, was hesitant to fully endorse the trip.

“It sure seems like a lot of money for a few days and a lot of staff,” she wrote in an April 10 email.

Gonerka, City Manager Skip Noe, Development Services Manager Andrea Amonick and a handful of other staffers have attended the event in the past. Hogan said he plans to attend the conference this year.

Jason Batchelor, deputy city manager, said the annual total price tag for the conference is about $100,000. However, those funds have been included in the annual city budget since council signed off on prioritizing the event in 2015.

He said that about half of the total cost is used to cover price of the booth, while the remaining $50,000 is used to pay for costs associated with accommodating staff in Nevada for three days.

The recently approved $44,000 expenditure for this year’s conference was budgeted, although the item was deemed an “emergency request” due to tight deadlines, Batchelor said. However, the booth “is in line with the budget,” Batchelor wrote in an email.

“We think it’s worth it,” Batchelor said. “If you’re going to try and attract these types of national retailers we’d all like to see, you’ve got to kind of go to where they are.”

Hogan urged council members critical of the event to suggest other avenues through which the city could speak to as many developers in as short of a time frame.

“I think it’s interesting that people who aren’t in the development business and aren’t in the retail business and have never attended this know exactly what’s going on how much it should cost,” he said. “Those who criticize need to come up with an explanation of how they would do it differently because the evidence shows that this is the way it gets done.”