SmartCentres offers 1M sq. ft. for COVID-19 relief facilities

IMAGE: SmartCentres REIT is offering up to one million square feet of rent-free space in shopping centres across Canada to government/health authorities to support COVID-19 treatment and relief efforts. (Google Street View)

SmartCentres REIT is offering up to one million square feet of rent-free space in shopping centres across Canada to government/health authorities to support COVID-19 treatment and relief efforts. (Google Street View)

As the impact of the COVID-19 virus continues to spread, SmartCentres REIT (SRU-UN-T) announced it is offering Canadian governments and health authorities up to a million square feet of rent-free space in its 200 shopping centres across the country.

The offer was made public Monday afternoon and includes land, parking lots and signage in addition to space within the buildings. It is the latest move by Canadian real estate entities to support those working on the front lines to contain the spread of the virus and to treat those who are affected.

“We have been in contact with leadership in all provinces,” said Mitchell Goldhar, the executive chairman of SmartCentres, in a release.

The land and space being offered can be used for drive-through and/or walk-in assessment centres, clinics, social assistance, overflow hospital services, information centres and/or other facilities that would assist Canada’s medical system or other essential services.

Prime locations for public access

“We are not just a Canadian company, we are Canadians,” Goldhar said in the release.

“The impulse to help each other is embedded in the DNA of our culture. We will use every means available to us to help each and every one of our fellow Canadians.”

Lands which are owned separately in a partnership between Walmart Canada and Goldhar will be made available as well.

Part of the attraction of shopping centres for such facilities could be their access to people in the neighbourhoods where they live, the release states.

Most retail centres are located in close proximity to neighbourhoods and high-traffic areas, and offer good access to public transit. 

“The guiding principles of our open-air, value-oriented shopping centres have never been more relevant than they are right now,” said Goldhar in the release.

“We are supporting Canadians through various means, including this initiative and support of our retailers who provide groceries, pharmacy, medical, general merchandise and other essentials to customers in the communities we live in and serve across Canada.”

SmartCentres REIT has $9.9 billion in assets and owns over 34 million square feet of retail space on 3,500 acres of land across Canada.

Other offers of assistance

Similar offers are being made by other companies. In Ottawa, operators of both the EY Centre and Infinity Convention Centre reached out to local authorities.

Businesses such as convention centres were among the first to be severely affected by the outbreak, with mass cancellations of large public and private gatherings.

Elsewhere on Monday, Canada Life, IGM Financial and Power Corporation of Canada teamed up to announce a $1-million joint contribution to support crisis relief efforts.

The funds are targeted to local and national foodbanks struggling to cope with increased demand. They will provide other resources for vulnerable people via the United Way and Centraide du Grand Montréal.

“We salute and express our deep thanks to the charities and all the front-line staff who are working so tirelessly to keep us all safe and healthy.” said Jeffrey Orr, president and CEO of Power Corp., in the announcement. 

“Our group of companies has always put the well-being of our communities, customers and employees at the forefront of what we do. This is truly a time to underscore our commitment with tangible support.”

Property owners assist tenants

Other Canadian real estate companies have made a series of moves designed to assist their tenants and partners during the crisis.

Among them, Ivanhoé Cambridge announced last week it will defer rent for Quebec businesses in its shopping centres affected by the retail shutdown in that province — which was the first to announce widespread forced business closures.

First Capital REIT announced similar deferrals of all or a portion of rents for affected businesses in its portfolio. The FCR Small Business Support Program would provide up to $30 million in relief and will kick in April 1.

Many other firms have followed suit, or are expected to announce programs as the situation develops.

The moves come as governments across Canada strengthen directives designed to slow the spread of the virus. The governments of Quebec and Ontario have ordered all “non-essential” stores and services to close.

In B.C., the government has ordered closure of bars and restaurant, salons and some other businesses but had not ordered blanket closures as of Tuesday morning.

Other provinces are also taking measures depending on their individual situations.

Individual cities have also ordered their own restrictions, including Regina and Calgary.

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