The annual International Council of Shopping Centers conference may not sound like a fascinating weekend for Baltimore and Maryland politicos, but where else has a sitting mayor officiated the wedding of two top lobbyists?

Former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake made headlines in 2013 when she served as the officiant for lobbyists Lisa Harris Jones and Sean Malone before a crowd of roughly 100 onlookers — many of whom, including the mayor, were in Las Vegas for ICSC.

The Baltimore region and state’s political class — which this year includes Gov. Wes Moore, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott and Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. — faithfully heads to Sin City each spring to network with real estate, grocery and development professionals from across the U.S., in hopes of recruiting them to do business in Maryland.

The weekend is home to the Maryland Party, a multiday poolside networking event at the Wynn and Encore Resort, where sponsors pay for private cabanas to host meetings with friends and business partners. The party is organized by Howard Perlow and Terry Anne Hearn, executives at the Owings Mills-based Residential Title & Escrow Company.

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Last year, more than 2,500 developers, brokers, retailers, lawyers, insurers, adjusters and politicians attended the event, according to the Maryland Party’s website.

Baltimore City attendees

Taxpayers will foot a bill for more than $21,000 to send Mayor Brandon Scott, City Council President Nick Mosby, and council members Mark Conway, Eric Costello and Sharon Green Middleton to Vegas. Deputy Mayor for Community and Economic Development Justin Williams and Assistant Deputy Mayor Elizabeth Koontz will also attend.

All will stay at the $349-a-night Wynn and Encore Resort, where the Maryland Party will occur. The seven-person city entourage will be slightly larger than last year’s. The Scott administration has traveled relatively lightly compared to previous mayors; former Mayor Catherine Pugh routinely brought over a dozen aides.

“If I don’t go, then other mayors are going to continue to eat Baltimore’s lunch,” said Scott, who will fly to Las Vegas after the Preakness Stakes on Saturday.

He said that last year he marketed Harborplace, which is being redeveloped by David Bramble, to business leaders across the country. “It was about showing investors that the city was on board, was going to be there, that we are going to make the once-crown jewel of Baltimore a place everybody wants to visit,” he said.

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As mayor, Pugh tried unsuccessfully at two ICSC conferences to recruit a lease for the then-vacant space at Mondawmin Mall that used to house Target. Mayor Jack Young attended the conference in 2019, days after he was sworn in to replace Pugh, who resigned amid a corruption scandal, hoping to achieve the same. The space was ultimately purchased by Whiting-Turner CEO Tim Regan last year.

Scott declined to share which specific business leaders he will meet with this weekend, but said he will make sure that they “see directly that the CEO of Baltimore, me, wants them to come to our city.”

Other city money will flow into the party: the Baltimore Development Corporation, a private-public organization, will send its president Colin Tarbert and Executive Vice President Kim Clark.

The Downtown Partnership of Baltimore spent $9,000 to become a silver sponsor of the Maryland Party, while the Greater Baltimore Committee spent $6,000 to become a bronze sponsor.

In the private sector, The Ravens, Atlas Restaurant Group, The Cordish Companies and the law firm Venable will sponsor the event.

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Baltimore County attendees

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. will also be making the trip west, along with three aides.

The cost to send Olszewski, Chief of Staff Dori Henry, and economic development officials Sameer Sidh and Jennifer Lynch includes $2,691 for airfare and $3,561.75 for three nights of lodging at the Wynn, according to the county.

The county is also paying $9,000 to be a “government sponsor” at the Maryland Party, which county spokesman Sean Naron said is a valuable marketing opportunity.

“It’s a great opportunity for Baltimore County to market what it has to offer to an audience of brands and commercial tenants that range from local to regional and national,” said Sidh, who is the county’s deputy administrative officer for economic development and infrastructure.

The county officials will focus on luring developers and tenants to redevelopment projects on both the county’s west side and east side.

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The west side has insufficient retail and restaurant options, and the county is in the midst of ambitious plans to remake the old Security Square Mall, having landed tens of millions of dollars in state aid to help buy parts of the mall.

On the east side, the county has its eye on boosting industrial and commercial business around Tradepoint Atlantic and the Port of Baltimore.

The Baltimore County team already has meetings lined up, but they also expect to hold impromptu meetings. Some meetings are with out-of-state companies; others are with locally-based companies because so many Maryland businesses and agencies are already there, Sidh said.

“If you’re looking at a cost-benefit, I think the benefit of the wide array of local property owners and national tenants that are considering Baltimore County, having the opportunity to meet them in one location outweighs the modest cost of attending the conference,” Sidh said.

Local networking, Sidh said, is a “big part of it.”

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“We’ll have discussions with local developers, as well as talking with them about helping tenant recruitment efforts and navigating issues they’re seeing from a regulatory perspective,” he said.

At last year’s conference, Sidh said county officials were able to land a deal for Grocery Outlet Bargain Market to open a store in the Milford Mill Shopping Center on Liberty Road where a Giant Food grocery store had closed in 2018. Sidh said he hopes the store will open early next year.

County Council Chairman Julian Jones, a Democrat, plans to pay out of his own pocket to attend. He’s on the lookout for retailers to lure to his district on the west side of the county — hoping to replicate last year’s success with Grocery Outlet — but also plans to coordinate with the county executive’s team to “stump for Baltimore County as a whole.”

“It’s a target-rich environment,” Jones said. “There’s a lot of businesses and retailers that you can see all in one place.”

Maryland attendees

Maryland’s state government plans to send a contingent to Las Vegas, headed up by Gov. Wes Moore. Other officials on the trip are Commerce Secretary Kevin Anderson, Commerce Deputy Secretary Signe Pringle, Appointments Secretary Tisha Edwards, Chief of Staff Fagan Harris, Deputy Chief of Staff Shaina Hernandez and Kristina Broadie Jeter, the governor’s director of advance and protocol.

The cost of the trip isn’t yet finalized. The governor’s team has several meetings planned, including with MCB Real Estate, the company headed by developer Bramble that’s remaking Baltimore’s Harborplace, as well as Tradepoint Atlantic and Caesars Entertainment.

The state government also is spending $25,000 to be one of the Maryland Party sponsors.

“ICSC and associated events provide a perfect opportunity for state officials to promote Maryland as a premier location for businesses to locate and expand,” Moore spokesman Carter Elliott IV said in a statement.

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