NeoCon and permanent contract furnishings showroom rentals generate buku bucks for the Merchandise Mart in Chicago. That's your bottom line why Vornado Realty Trust, owners of Merchandise Mart Properties Inc. (MMPI), would not do anything that might upset the apple cart, such as leasing out any of the two floors of space used for NeoCon's temporary exhibits to corporate tenants.

So proclaimed Mark Falanga, president of MMPI, at the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers' (BIFMA)  annual breakfast meeting held on Wednesday, the last day of NeoCon.

For more than an hour, I had sat next to Falanga, occasionally sharing some small talk, as he calmly waited his turn at the podium. When he did take the stage at the end of the program, I expected he would deliver a more-or-less mundane speech about NeoCon attendance, new show programs, etc. Instead, Falanga gave an extremely passionate and riveting speech aimed at assuring BIFMA members that there was "absolutely no truth" to any of the "outrageous rumors" that NeoCon was on its last legs.

Rumors happen and can be expected to happen, even in the woodworking industry. I couldn't even begin to count the number of whispers I've heard over the years about companies going out of business, corporate mergers or dramatic company start-ups that never materialized.  

For a rumor to have legs, it needs at least a modicum of plausibility. In this case, it has been widely reported that Vornado is looking to sell off some of its assets. In fact, on Tuesday, Vornado CEO Michael Fascitelli told investors that Vornado was looking to sell assets valued at approximately $1 billion, most especially office and retail real estate in New York City and Washington, DC.

Falanga admitted that MMPI was in the process of relocating some 150 residential furniture, occasional furniiture and gift ware showrooms to free up corporate space on the Merchandise Mart's upper floors. He also said it was true that a number of Vornado assets were "in play" including the annual IIDEX NeoCon trade show in Toronto. He reiterated, however, that neither the Mart nor NeoCon is for sale and that even if it were, "No rational owner, including Vornado, would consider anything but to move into the future with the contract industry leading the way..."

Falanga's speech earned him hearty applause from the BIFMA members in attendance. While he came off as sincere in his mission to "set the record straight," it didn't stop one Doubting Thomas in the audience from turning to a colleague and dead panning, "They'll probably sell the Mart tomorrow."

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