Each year, the who’s who of retail development gathers in Orlando for the International Council of Shopping Center’s (ICSC) Florida Deal Making Conference. This year, the organizers announced more than 5,000 people were in attendance, representing the highest attendance since pre-recession shows. We checked in with Bohler’s Florida Principal John Lapointe to get his thoughts and perspective on retail trends in the state and the industry.

What was your impression of ICSC Florida this year?
The show was very energized and positive. Everyone had deals to push and sites to market.   No matter what part of Florida you’re working in, everyone comes together to hear what’s going on around the state, do some deals and to network and meet new people.

If you’re doing anything retail related in Florida, this is the show to attend. I always connect with as many clients and partner as possible, as well as check out the booths on the floor as a way to catch up with colleagues and find new brands looking at Florida. This year, I noticed more people visiting from outside the state with a renewed interest in Florida markets.

What were some of the hot brands and retail categories this year?
Well, in our current client mix, we continue to see restaurants, particularly fast-casual brands, growing. Also, convenience and gas station retailers, grocery stores, discount retailers, home improvement and automotive-related brands. We see these more and more in the context of mixed-use developments.

Additionally, ICSC presented some of the emerging retailers in the state such as the MOD Pizza franchise, Lucky’s Market and the expanding Orchard Supply Hardware, which is owned by Lowe’s. Diversification is good for the market, and can help with the reuse of some of the surplus retail space vacated by contracting brands or store closures.

What do you make of the record attendance? Is Florida once again the focus of the retail development industry?
In addition to the fast-growth markets in Texas and the Southeast, it’s certainly up there. However, I saw in the Colliers report promoted at the show that new retail development activity is still half of what it was in 2007, with much of it centered around South Florida. So, while the activity is there, the development and construction scene has changed. As some retailers are changing their business model, or even going out of business, other growing brands take advantage of and redevelop the vacated properties. While this makes sense in a lot of areas, it changes the programs and demands retailers and developers place on the design and construction folks. It’s our job to bring creativity and options to our clients to help them leverage what’s available in the market, whether greenfield, redevelopment or a mixed-use opportunity.

John Lapointe is the Florida principal for Bohler Engineering. The Boca Raton and Tampa offices are backed by more than 20 other locations from New England to North Texas. He can be reached at jlapointe@bohlereng.com.