Well, finally some great weather – summer is here! And, this week was also marked by positive momentum for our business; specifically, meaningful progress on the easing of COVID-19 related construction restrictions and the reopening of the Canadian economy. On Tuesday, construction projects in Ontario were permitted to resume activity, and many of the province’s retail stores with exterior doors were authorized to reopen to customers.
Our development initiatives continue to progress as well. Congratulations to the Alliston team for submitting their Site Plan Approval for a 3-storey rental apartment last week. Furthermore, our Pickering redevelopment will be featured in Urban Toronto tomorrow.
THE ‘NEXT NORMAL’ – RETAIL
Our open-air business model is very well positioned, as many non-essential retailers with street (including parking lot) entrances are the first format allowed to reopen, placing us at a strong advantage. The majority of our tenants have now reopened, including the Toronto Premium Outlet stores, many of which reopened on Friday and over the weekend. The Greater Montreal Area will follow suit tomorrow. We know this has been a very challenging phase for our tenants, and we are working closely with them to ensure a safe and warm welcome back, for both employees and customers.
The way our tenants operate, and how customers used to shop within them, will not be the same for the foreseeable future. To recapture shoppers, retailers need to adapt, and reassure customers of a safe shopping experience.
Our Retail Homecoming Committee (HC2) is actively focused on enhancing site sanitization and security, and is proactively communicating these changes to ensure tenants and customers are made aware. They are also providing tenants with best-practice recommendations to improve the COVID-19 customer experience. See below for a selection of signs that are being posted throughout our centres, in support of safe shopping.
THE ‘NEXT NORMAL’ – SMARTCENTRES OFFICES
While we support the reopening of our tenants, we are also planning for the reopening of our home offices. Your unique situations are too diverse to suggest any one-size-fits-all prescription to navigate these circumstances. We recognize that kids are not in school and that many summer camps have been canceled. We appreciate that some Associates are in more vulnerable categories. Your needs will certainly vary and I assure you that accommodating unique circumstances in a thoughtful and responsible manner is part of the plan.
Our number one priority is your safety and we will be making workplace adjustments accordingly. True to SmartCentres DNA, we will be proceeding in a sensible and practical manner, but not over-reacting. We trust that you will do the same in your personal life, adhering to social distancing guidance and maintaining the recommended hygiene.
The Homecoming Committee (HC1) will be presenting the return to work plan to the executive team and BCLT this week. Our intention is to host a virtual townhall the second week of June, to share the details with all Associates. The townhall date will be confirmed once the return to work plan is finalized.
On Wednesday, new details were released regarding the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) Program, which was first announced by the federal government in late April. The CECRA program allows eligible small business tenants to pay only ≤25% of their rent for April, May and June. The landlord (i.e. SmartCentres, in our case) absorbs ≥ 25% of the rent, and the federal and provincial governments pay the remaining 50% of the rent by way of forgivable loans.
This program is mutually beneficial, as it will mitigate the risk of our small independent retailers declaring bankruptcy. The CECRA application portal opens tomorrow morning. We are working closely with our tenants to actively clarify the optimal path forward, per tenant, in the best interest of our collective group of stakeholders.
On June 5th, we will be delivering care packages to 4 Revera retirement residences. Thank you to those of you that have submitted letters of encouragement and artwork for the seniors. You have some very creative children and I know the seniors’ residents will love their masterpieces. If you have not sent them in yet, you still have a few days. Please have your child print their first name and age on the page.
You can drop off or mail in your letters/pictures to Joanne Herbert’s attention at the Vaughan Home Office this week. While original hard copies are preferred, you can take a picture of your letters/pictures and email them to Joanne Herbert.
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS
Please continue to submit your questions, comments and suggestions via the anonymous “Ask the BCLT” survey. We review all submissions, and where relevant, they are shared with the appropriate Homecoming/Change Agent committee for consideration as they build out their plans.
Stay strong and stay safe,