Read More 5Qs...
Have you noticed major changes in how consumers are using your facilities?
There will be a shift to centers with more spaces to live, work, and play. That is really a key emphasis for us as owners. Gathering spaces are becoming more and more important. People are shopping less frequently, but buying more. They’re shopping more locally at High Street stores instead of regional malls. Historically, we’ve focused a lot on the stores. In the future, the focus will be on how stores will engage with the public realm.
What special precautions are you taking for employee and consumer safety as shopping centers begin to re-open in the U.K.?
The safety of employees is front and center for us, making sure they have safe surroundings and the correct gear. As in the U.S., we’ve been working on capacity limits and queue control. We’re making sure there is deeper cleaning being done. There’s a balance to maintain between making people feel safe as well as providing a satisfactory shopping experience. Some consumers have been comfortable coming back to centers early on, but we have to work on getting all consumers to view the shopping center as a comforting place.
How are you addressing the difficult financial situations being faced by your tenants?
The biggest effort for us has been transparency and communication. We need financially successful businesses in our centers, so we’ve worked out payment plans and helped them with their cash flow issues. The government established a program that will pay up to 80 percent of employees’ wages until October. Businesses have also received property tax relief of one year, and retail businesses are protected from being evicted through the end of September. Retailers can get recovery or bounce-back loans and use them to pay rent.
Do you envision making changes at your properties that you hadn’t anticipated prior to the pandemic?
Yes, there are three key areas. First, we need to take greater control over our environment. We need to have a closer relationship with the consumer than we have had in the past. The second area is making sure we create spaces for emerging brands—the digital businesses that have done well during COVID. And the third thing we really need to focus on is making sure that, as shopping center owners, we diversify our revenue streams to capitalize on our audience. We need to modify property use with work spaces and health services, for instance. We’ve launched a flexible partnership model for leasing that can help startups to establish themselves as national brands. They can rent flexible-term, pre-fitted spaces or they can pay a share of their revenue as rent.