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by Keith Matheny

With the economy in the worst slump in generations, and most retail development at a near-standstill, Coachella Valley city officials faced a choice last May.

They could take a business-as-usual approach and attend the biggest annual conference for meeting prospective retail developers. Or they could scale back or pass on the conference altogether as a cost-saving effort.

Valley cities did all of the above, a Desert Sun review of city records obtained through the California Public Records Act shows.

La Quinta and Palm Desert passed on the International Council of Shopping Centers’ RECon 2009 retail real estate conference, held May 17-20 at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

“It’s paid dividends to us in the past,” said La Quinta Mayor Don Adolph. “But this year it made no sense. No development is going on. Everything’s on hold, strictly because of the economy.”

Attendance took a big hit at the conference this year — down 40 percent from last year, to 30,000 attendees, ICSC officials said.

Palm Springs and Coachella were among the valley cities that scaled back their presence, reducing spending and number of attendees.

Coachella spent $13,700 to attend the conference last year and $3,400 this year, City Manager Tim Brown said.

The city had sent six to eight officials to the conference in years past and only three people this year, Brown said.

Next year they’ve already budgeted to only have one city official go to Vegas, he said. The city is instead sponsoring its own Developer Day, bringing prospective retailers to town and showing them the amenities, he said.

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