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RPT’s Shopping Centers Are Open for Business

National  + Weekender  | 

By Paul Bubny

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, owners of enclosed malls largely shut down for the duration, either due to state mandates to close non-essential businesses, or in anticipation that these orders would be coming sooner rather than later. RPT Realty, headquartered in New York City, got out in front of the crisis in a different way, by working with tenants to keep its open-air centers up and running to the fullest extent possible.

“We have a very detailed approach that we’ll be rolling out,” in accordance with state and local mandates in the communities where RPT operates, president and CEO Brian Harper told Connect Media.

That approach, which is continuing to evolve, includes these measures to work with tenants and communities:

• Providing information and resources to assist tenants with communication efforts, small business resources and state-by-state COVID-19 updates at
• Following all precautions prescribed by the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 at company offices and shopping centers.
• Helping tenants to continue to provide essential goods and services to their customers by keeping shopping centers open, subject to local, state and federal mandates.
• Donating more than 20,000 meals to support schools and nursing home employees in the company’s local communities.
• Dollar-matching employee donations with proceeds going to support hospital workers and volunteers.
• Offering the medical community vacant spaces for storage.
• Implementing a program, now in place, to assist its tenants in optimizing the benefits from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

RPT is also providing webinars on best retail practices for tenants, has rolled out extensive safety measures across its entire portfolio, and is supporting the community and its tenants by purchasing and providing gift cards and other donations to first responders and essential workers.

“In any crisis, partnership if it’s done right just gets stronger,” said Harper, who stressed the importance of constant communication.

It helps that the company went virtual soon after Harper took the reins in June 2018, equipping all team members with laptops and implementing work-from-home days to provide better work-family balance. Thus it was prepared to implement a remote-working policy on short notice. It also helped that, prior to the pandemic even appearing on radar screens, RPT sold the last of its enclosed centers.

To clarify the RPT team’s interaction with its tenants, Harper separated the roster into four buckets. “Bucket one is essential businesses—grocery, pharmacy, hardware stores,” he said. “Bucket two is big balance-sheet retailers: TJX, Burlington Coat, Dick’s Sporting Goods. They have a very strong balance sheet that can weather the storm.

“Three is tenants that have been shut down by government through no fault of their own: theaters, fitness clubs, restaurants,” he continued. “They look very different from tenants in the first two buckets in terms of requiring rent forbearance.”

The fourth bucket is tenants “that had weak balance sheets going into COVID-19 but now are even weaker,” said Harper. “We’re looking at each of those buckets differently, and looking at each store differently, rather than taking a broad-brush approach.”

Pictured: RPT’s Lakehills Plaza in Austin, TX, in a photo taken prior to the pandemic.

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About Paul Bubny

Paul Bubny serves as Senior Content Director for Connect Commercial Real Estate, a role to which he brings 13-plus years’ experience covering the commercial real estate industry and 30-plus years in business-to-business journalism. In this capacity, he oversees daily operations while also reporting on both local/regional markets and national trends, covering individual transactions across all property types, as well as delving into broader subject matter. He produces 15-20 daily news stories per day and works with the Connect team and clients to develop longer-form content, ranging from Q&As to thought-leadership pieces. Prior to joining Connect, Paul was Managing Editor for both Real Estate Forum and at American Lawyer Media, where he oversaw operations at both publications while also producing daily news and feature-length articles. His tenure in B2B publishing stretches back into the print era, and he has served as Editor in Chief on four national trade publications. Since 1999, Paul has volunteered as the newsletter editor of passenger rail advocacy groups (one national, one local).