D.C. lawmakers are gearing up for this year's big retail and real estate conference in Las Vegas, which provides a chance for the mayor, council members and other city officials to convince developers and retailers to set up shop in D.C.
The D.C. Council is doubling down on Las Vegas this year, sending an unprecedented number of council members and staff to the Global Retail Real Estate Convention, which is hosted annually by the International Council of Shopping Centers.
The D.C. Council is sending perhaps as many as 15 or 16 people to the May 20-23 conference, many on the taxpayers' dime. Why? The city’s real estate market is hot. Big box retailers want in, and once-overlooked neighborhoods and projects — St. Elizabeth's, Walter Reed, Penn Branch —are now primed for development.
Council members are looking to, as several put it, bring home the bacon.
But Las Vegas can also be risky; just ask the General Services Administration. So last week, Council Chair Kwame Brown sent a letter to his colleagues as a precaution.
"Clearly my letter indicates that for everyone going, there should be justification on why you are going," Brown said Wednesday.
As to why he's going, Council member Jim Graham said it's simple. "I have never been. This is my 14th year in office, and I have never attended. I thought it might be interesting to go," he said.
Graham is also bringing his chief of staff and his Latino liaison, because he "wanted to bring diverse points of view" along on the trip. He also sees a chance to help out his ward.
"There are ways to help the Columbia Heights development," Graham said. "We still have major opportunities there for an organic market, which we really should have there."
When pressed on whether he and other council members need to go to Las Vegas to secure a deal with an organic market, Graham balked.
"Well, on that standard, no one should go except the mayor, and the deputy mayor, and maybe the chairman," Graham said.
There’s no question the retail conference has helped the city land some huge deals, such as Walmart and Home Depot. And this year, it just so happens a big boxing fight, starring D.C.'s own Lamant Peterson, is scheduled for the first night of conference.
Council Member Vincent Orange, who oversees boxing matters for D.C., says he'll be there. Chairman Brown says he expects other council members to attend as well.
But Brown says that's not why members and staff are attending the conference.
"I don't think anyone is flying to Vegas and going to a boxing match that's paid on the residents of the District of Columbia's dime," says Brown.