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Leon Kaye headshot

During This Crisis, Offer Shopping Mall Space for Community Centers

City agencies and nonprofits running community centers are on the brink. The real estate sector can help, as plenty of empty space exists.
By Leon Kaye
Community Centers

One of the tragedies of this crisis is that whether one’s industry is looked after or not depends on its relationship, which usually involves fawning, with the White House. If you push back, or show no sign of groveling, the feds could use the Defense Production Act (DPA) as a bullwhip against your company on their terms, as our senior reporter, Tina Casey, distilled here on TriplePundit a few weeks ago in her profile on GM, Mary Barra and the dire need for ventilators. But if you are part of a city agency or nonprofit running vital services like community centers, forget it.

The powerful are favored while those lacking the right connections suffer

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is looking out for the meatpacking industry with an executive order that purports to protect the U.S. food supply overwhelmed with challenges. Such a chess move sounds like a noble cause — until one realizes that under Trump's recent executive order, meat companies will be allowed to carry on as if it were business as usual, while workers have no recourse to ensure their health and safety. The president was widely quoted as saying the executive order’s purpose is to “solve any liability problems where they had certain liability problems and we’ll be in very good shape.”

Meanwhile, the largest owner of shopping malls in the U.S., Simon Property Group, said last week it was determined to open almost 50 of its malls across the southeastern states over the past weekend, though as of press time the company’s malls in the Atlanta region will not open until today. It just so happens that David Simon, CEO of Simon Property Group, is on the president’s “reopen the economy” task force.

Community centers, and the citizens they serve, need help fast

Let’s discuss what is not in good shape: Vital community services across the nation are at a breaking point. Domestic violence shelters, community centers serving the LGBTQ community, and places where vulnerable children can feel safe and welcome are for the most part shuttered.

So here’s a question: If shopping mall property managers can put in the time and resources to space out seating at food courts while taping off urinals in order to ensure social distancing, why can’t real estate and property management companies consider taking similar action to offer a safe space for those who are most at risk?

Think about it: Those hunkering down at a domestic violence shelter (or at home) could use a break from the daily routine. Kids who suffer from a chaotic home life could benefit from a place to complete their homework. And a queer person who suddenly lost his or her job and is now forced to live in an insufferable, if not abusive, situation would at a minimum have the opportunity to savor a safe space for a few precious hours daily.

Shopping malls have plenty of “safe space”

Shopping malls are a near perfect place to provide a safe and quiet haven during the day — and honestly, for the “dead malls” scattered across America, with some thought and planning, they could serve as community centers as well. To start, these cavernous shopping malls certainly have plenty of space — these massive buildings could certainly offer different services to different groups of vulnerable people. For those property managers skittish on having these services in plain view in their malls’ center courts or under the main atrium, fine; those empty retail spaces would suffice.

Considering the size of these places, mall operators can work with community organizations to enforce social distancing. Together, they can also require masks and protective equipment, or work with local businesses and government agencies to provide these and other supplies such as disinfectants. Tech and wireless companies could provide mobile hotspots. And if our food supply could ever stabilize, local organizations could provide meals or snacks, too. Finally, as far services such as counseling or tutoring go, there is no shortage of kind-hearted people who have the time on their hands if the right precautions — such as taking a temperature at the door and getting those hand sanitizer stands set up — are taken.

Such a move wouldn’t generate eye-catching headlines. It certainly wouldn’t be popular with the entitled part of our citizenry who turn away as frontline healthcare workers and people of color suffer the most during this pandemic, only to be furious when these same people are told they can’t get a haircut or go to the beach. But bottom line: It would show be the right thing to do — and allow the wider real estate industry an opportunity to show this sector is willing to be of service, too.

Image credit: Stephen Yu/Pixabay

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye