Thousands of retail and shopping center executives descended on the Las Vegas Convention Center over the past few days as part of an annual rite of passage as they attended the Global Retail Real Estate Convention. The crowds were much thinner than in past years as most companies in the throes of a deep recession dispatched only their top decision-makers to this oasis in the desert. Whether they were commiserating about the weak economy or engrossed in deal making, attendees had no shortage of hot-button issues to discuss. What follows is a sampling of their insights about the state of the industry:

John Levy, founder of real investment banking firm John B. Levy & Co., Richmond, Va., commenting on deleveraging:

“People in the industry are saying, ‘There are $300 billion worth of loans coming due. Where is the $300 billion going to come from? We don’t have enough capital.’ First of all, we do have a problem. We don’t have enough cash. But we’re not going to be replacing $300 billion [of maturing debt] with another $300 billion. We’ll be replacing $300 billion with $200 billion. Why? We’re deleveraging. One of two things is going to have to happen: Lenders are going to have to write off part of their loans, or we’re going to have to raise more equity.”

Richard Davidson, president and COO, Coldwell Banker Commercial based in Parsippany, N.J., commenting on the ripple effects of the frozen CMBS market:

“In August 2007, the commercial mortgage-backed securities market basically got shut down. That significantly impacted transaction volume. In 2008, transaction volume in the investment sales marketplace overall was off 75%. It’s already off an additional 500 basis points for the first quarter of 2009. So, we’re 80% off the peak set in 2007. Until the industry finds an alternative [financing] source for large transactions, you will continue to see the industry dominated by private investors and other means of financing these transactions such as seller financing, seller holdbacks, or assumptions. It’s difficult to finance a large transaction in today’s market.”

Terry Brown, CEO of Edens & Avant, commenting on plans for the shopping center owner based in Columbia, S.C. to exit the Cleveland marketplace, where it has $70 to $80 million in assets:

“We don’t need to be in Cleveland. We got into Cleveland as part of a portfolio transaction 10 years ago to get into New England. We’re selling a couple hundred million dollars of assets this year [portfolio-wide], assets where we can’t add value, or markets we don’t want to be in. The important thing is not the size, but the quality, of the portfolio. We would rather own very pristine assets in very pristine locations. We’re tending to move to bigger assets in bigger markets. We’re doing more urban projects.”