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Record Deep Freeze Challenges DFW Infrastructure, CRE Market

A record-breaking winter storm is putting Dallas-Fort Worth property managers, the transportation sector and retail centers to the test. 

The National Weather Service forecasts a life-endangering winter storm through the end of the workweek across North Texas.

Parts of the Downtown Dallas skyline to go dark Monday night to preserve energy.

With temperatures and wind chill creating sub-zero weather conditions in DFW, operators of public and private commercial properties and transportation outlets are in preservation and safety mode.

Energy grid limitations caused by unprecedented electricity demand during the wintry weather mix has caused millions of Texans to lose power — on Monday afternoon, 829,000 people in North Texas had no electricity. After inquiries about why Dallas skyscraper lights remained lit up on Sunday night while so many were without electricity, some Downtown Dallas building owners announced plans to shut off their lights Monday night to preserve power on the grid.

Many retail stores and restaurants have also been forced or have chosen to close because of a lack of power or hazardous driving conditions, a harsh blow on top of the pandemic-related pain that has haunted them for a year.

Walmart announced 453 temporary store closings due to the inclement weather across parts of the U.S. DFW-area shopping malls from Stonebriar Centre in Frisco to NorthPark Mall and Galleria Dallas shuttered their doors. 

Retail and restaurant destinations had prepped their locations to prevent long-term damage prior to the storm hitting Texas. Landlords with tenants who want to stay open during the storm also have been busy ensuring their commercial sites are safe for guests. 

"Our tenants and the landlords have been preparing for the worst," Weitzman Vice President of Asset Management Bernard Shaw said. "As a landlord, we are doing what we can to create a safe environment for those tenants and those customers that want to brave the weather. With the inclement weather happening on the weekend of a very big day, Valentine’s Day, many retailers are certainly disappointed."

Shaw said tenants have been trying to pivot most of their work to days in the week expected to see less impact from the weather. Despite Walmart announcing certain closings, Shaw said the grocery space overall remains the clear winner of the winter weather outbreak. 

"Families are stocking up on things in anticipation of being shut in. To the extent possible, the restaurants are attempting to serve clients, but all contingency plans (takeout, delivery, to-go) pale in comparison to being open, even at pandemic levels because the weather is just another level of complexity on top of the pandemic," Shaw added. 

The Golden Triangle Mall in Denton started experiencing rolling power outages at 2 a.m. Monday, according to Weitzman property manager Matt Ludemann. 

"The mall lost power several times before 7 a.m.," Ludemann said. "Due to this and for safety reasons, management announced on social media channels that Golden Triangle Mall is closed today."

Weitzman Director of Property Management Sandi Scott, who oversees 120 retail properties, said prior to the severe weather outbreaks, her team tried to get vacancies and riser rooms winterized and stocked up on ice melt to deal with conditions on-site. 

But this year's storm has definitely created a level of uncertainty that won't pass until the storm is over, which is expected to be roughly three days from now. 

"With the rolling blackouts in the area, it’s hard to know what the impact will be (if any) with heaters coming back online," Scott said in an email. "With something of this magnitude, all you can do is prepare for broken water lines and hope people stay home!"


DFW's transportation infrastructure also faces a few days of interruption with Dallas Area Rapid Transit suspending the Trinity Railway Express Service and all other rail services until Feb. 18.

DART is still running passenger buses on routes throughout DFW to help North Texans without other means of transportation. 

Critical operations at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport remain fully up and running, and the airport as a whole is mostly immune to controlled rolling blackouts enacted by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas to preserve energy in the wake of historic energy demand levels.

Still, DFW canceled or delayed a number of departing flights Sunday and Monday, with travelers advised to consistently check the status of their flights before venturing out to the airport. 

"We advise customers to allow ample time for safe transit to and from the Airport. We are actively clearing and treating taxiways, runways and all airside and airport roadways and facilities," a spokesperson for the airport said in a statement to Bisnow. 

While the airport's core aviation operations have not been impacted by ERCOT's blackouts, noncore airport facilities faced some power outages during the winter storm. 

"To support ERCOT’s call to conserve energy usage, we are working closely with Oncor and Atmos, switching the Airport’s boilers at Energy Plaza from natural gas to jet fuel, and shutting the electric chillers off while circulating chilled water out of our thermal energy storage tank," DFW Airport said.