By Steve McLinden
In a day when many businesses may find giving to charity difficult, retail real estate decision makers the world over are holding fast to a commitment to help their fellow man, in good times and in bad. In addition to supporting such causes as United Way or various worldwide disaster-relief funds, the shopping center industry continues to seek creative ways to improve the lives of people in the communities it serves.
Shopping centers are focusing on the future by helping the young people who live around them — in some cases funding schools, creating scholarships and even rescuing struggling children’s charities. CBL & Associates Properties participates in financing the Chemo Duck program, which helps children with cancer prepare for their treatments. Several CBL malls implemented a Mall Waddle/Walk in March and raised about $20,000.
CBL and other retail organizations allow employees to decide where the benefits of such programs should go. Each CBL mall region gets a $5,000 contribution from headquarters to fund customized programs. Some CBL malls in the Carolinas organized Operation Heartfelt Salute in February in support of military families through letter-writing campaigns, care packages and similar activities. The Live Positively with Random Acts of Senseless Kindness program in CBL’s Dallas region helped homeless shelters, while the Cincinnati region sponsored a 5K walk and other events to support several charities.
Nearly 200 Jones Lang LaSalle employees participated in some 600 hours repairing and repainting the John Hope Elementary School, in Atlanta. Even Greg Maloney, president and CEO of Jones Lang LaSalle Retail, took part. “Giving starts at the top and extends down but then extends back up,” said Bernadette DiMauro, Jones Lang LaSalle’s director of corporate marketing.
The Jones Lang LaSalle Spread the Cheer program gives wide latitude to individual properties to devise their own community-enhancement efforts. Among these is Pretty in Pink, at Bel Air Mall, in Mobile, Ala., which donates used prom dresses. Another is Share Your Soles, at Chicago’s Ford City Mall, which collects shoes for poor youngsters.
Retail organizations around the world are pitching in. In Japan Fast Retailing Co., owner of Comptoir des Cotonniers, Uniqlo and other chains, was among the first industry groups to take up earthquake and tsunami relief efforts. The company collected donations at its 2,200 locations worldwide and announced plans to send clothing for distribution.
A day after that disaster, Brookstone launched a matching-donation program at its stores and over its Web site through Save the Children. Simon Property Group’s Fashion Valley Mall, in San Diego, was quick to post a plea for Red Cross donations, and numerous other centers and retailers followed. In March Jones Lang LaSalle, which has offices in Tokyo, Osaka, Sapporo and Fukuoka, announced that it was donating ¥100 million (about $1.25 million) to the Japanese Red Cross Society for aid to victims. Jones Lang LaSalle shopping centers used information technology and social media to encourage customer donations.
In Australia the Queensland retail property industry rallied behind relief efforts for victims of the record flooding that devastated that region. CB Richard Ellis joined The Shopping Centre Council of Australia and other groups to coordinate a benefit that raised several hundred thousand dollars. “As a group we can make a difference, and the support we have received demonstrates the strong spirit within our industry,” said Bruce Baker, CB Richard Ellis’ senior managing director in Queensland.
Meanwhile, three European shopping centers were championing children’s causes around the Continent. Almada Forum, a center in Almada, Portugal, owned by Commerz Real, helped rescue a struggling children’s charity by making it the focus of its Christmas-giving campaign. The recipient charity, Ajuda de Berco, which assists neglected and abused children under 3, was on the verge of shutting down one of its homes before Almada stepped in.
In Oberhausen, Germany, the CentrO shopping complex sponsored a pop-art extravaganza that transformed its vast Central Dome into an exhibit honoring pop artist James Rizzi. The center got 10,000 school children involved in a Rizzi painting contest and generated some €100,000 (about $140,000) in contributions from parents and others to benefit children’s charities.
Centro Commerciale Val di Chienti, in Macerata, Italy, funded the production of a children’s book of stories written and illustrated by local postgraduate students. The proceeds went to the care and aid of sick children.
Individuals in the industry are making heroic efforts too. Laurent Benarrous, a managing director at Avison Young (Canada), joined family members and friends last year to build a school in Nepal for 2,500 children. Many charities, particularly in the U.S., have been feeling pinched of late, making the type of support the retail real estate industry can give all the more crucial. Charitable donations have fallen since their 2005 peak of roughly $324 billion, which was attributable in part to a Hurricane Katrina–related spike, according to the Giving USA Foundation. This dropped to about $314 billion in 2008 and then to roughly $304 billion in 2009. Corporate giving, which peaked at about $18 billion in 2005, was roughly $14 billion in 2009.
Simon malls raised $1.7 million in the aggregate last year through the Simon Youth Foundation to fund resource centers at schools and provide scholarships. Some 1 million students annually drop out of high school in the U.S., according to the Simon Youth Foundation. “It’s part of a national crisis felt not only by students but by their communities and the nation,” said J. Michael Durnil, the foundation’s president and CEO. “SYF’s efforts not only impact local communities, but also resonate positively on anemic graduation rates.” Additionally, Simon malls net nearly a half million dollars for charity annually, through its wishing wells and fountain coin collections.
Forest City Enterprises associates have been working with local service organizations and charities in various types of Community Day programs since 2004, for a total of some 77,000 hours. “Community involvement is one of our core values, and an integral part of the way we do business,” said Lindsey Cottone, Forest City’s marketing manager. Fourteen Forest City retail properties teamed up to sponsor Back in the Swing, a program to help breast cancer survivors readjust. Forest City assisted the program last year through its National Retail Therapy Week, in October, when it sold a Retail Therapy Shopping Card entitling bearers to savings. The week’s proceeds went to helping cancer survivors and to promoting breast cancer awareness.
Though volunteerism is always its own reward, sometimes it lands plum projects for the participants. Just before ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition TV show rolled into Chattanooga, Tenn., show organizers contacted CBL seeking volunteers, thanks to the organization’s charitable track record. Dozens of CBL employees donated time in the round-the-clock effort, which rebuilds a targeted home over a tight, seven-day window for a participating family. “Within 24 hours they got a total of 4,000 volunteers, including a lot of our folks,” said Barb Faucette, CBL’s vice president of mall marketing. “Giving back” should be an inextricable part of every major retail company’s national and local branding efforts, Faucette says. “The consumer of the future,” she said, “will be one that will look to companies that give back.”