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At RECon: Inside the Arent Fox reception

By Jonathan O'Connell

LAS VEGAS -- After hours for the D.C. crowd at the International Council of Shopping Centers' RECon retail real estate convention began Sunday at an invitation-only reception held by the law firm Arent Fox LLP at the Wynn Las Vegas hotel and casino. Deputy Mayor Valerie Santos told the crowd of about 75 guests about very positive meetings with Walgreens and Chipotle, two retailers with a few locations in the city that she said want more (though a Chipotle rep declined comment after their meeting) and got everyone fired up for the next day. “There have been a number of retailers that I know, that I’m meeting with, today and tomorrow, that have been calling us and saying 'Give us a price' we want to be there,” she said.

Elected officials have been criticized in the past for not making the most of the public funds used to pay for the trip. The combination of the real estate crowd with the political one felt like a home-away-from-home campaign fundraiser, and – true enough – Fenty found time after stopping at the Arent Fox event to actually hold a re-election campaign fundraiser at the ARIA Hotel & Casino at CityCenter.

Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) said the city had made important contact with Target, Best Buy, Safeway and Costco in Las Vegas during his years here, and he recalled going in a previous year with developer Douglas Jemal and former Council member Carol Schwartz to visit the Madame Tussauds Las Vegas wax museum. D.C. later created a subsidy to attract Madame Tussauds to a Douglas property in Penn Quarter. “It has benefited the District enormously to have these connections,” he said. He counted only himself and Council member Muriel Bower (D-Ward 4) in attendance, out of the body's 13 members.

In an interesting contrast, Council member Kwame Brown (D-At large), who chairs the economic development committee, opted not to come while his opponent in his campaign for council chairman, Vincent Orange, did. Brown said via phone Sunday afternoon that he was working on budget details. “It’s kind of hard to really engage the residents and the business community on these issues from Vegas,” he said.

By Dan Beyers  |  May 24, 2010; 10:00 AM ET
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