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Owners Nationwide Say They Support Protests Despite The Damage To Their Properties

Already reeling from a spiraling economy brought on by the coronavirus, U.S. commercial real estate was buffeted by a new threat this week: sweeping unrest that saw properties set ablaze, retailers looted of their wares and buildings riddled with graffiti and broken glass.

The death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man killed in police custody in Minneapolis, spurred the nationwide protests, making way for a new chapter of painful dialogue about race in America. 

But as one conversation starts up again, another one critical to the American economy has now been momentarily suspended: how to revive properties in the midst of a historic pandemic and economic collapse.

What started in the Twin Cities quickly spread to New York and Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and beyond. Peaceful protests by day devolved into violence at night, leaving hundreds, if not thousands, of businesses and properties shattered.

Owners Nationwide Say They Support Protests Despite The Damage To Their Properties
Looters ransacked the business district north of The White House in Washington, D.C., Sunday, May 31, 2020.

Monday night was more of the same. Curfews went into effect, police presence in many cities was multiplied, and before nightfall, looting had already commenced in pockets of the country. Two people died Monday after protests devolved into looting and violence in Cicero, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.

In D.C., those old enough to remember the 1968 riots that followed the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. remarked on the eerie similarities between now and then. But unlike past riots, including the 1992 Rodney King riots in South Central LA, looters targeted national chains like Target and luxury stores like Dior.

“These looters didn’t want to destroy black and minority[-owned] businesses and areas,” said WLM Financial CEO and founder Odest Riley Jr., a longtime Inglewood, California, resident. “For many of these younger protestors, they see this world and that things should be equal. They are more organized with social media and technology, so they’ve been systematically targeting downtowns or higher-revenue neighborhoods.”

The ritziest shopping districts were targeted nationwide — from SoHo in Manhattan and Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills to the Gold Coast in Chicago and Buckhead in Atlanta. Business owners and local leaders decried the destruction of property and the violence from agitators and police. They also acknowledged what caused the tension in the first place.

“Political, business and community leaders must come together and take concrete actions to significantly and measurably combat the long-standing abuse and unequal opportunities that continue to fall, particularly across race and gender,” Real Estate Roundtable President and CEO Jeffrey DeBoer said in a statement.

Owners Nationwide Say They Support Protests Despite The Damage To Their Properties
Protesters march through Minneapolis May 26, 2020.

Even self-avowed peaceful protestors said the destruction was a side effect of society’s deep injustices. 

Justice League NYC was one of five groups to organize a peaceful march in Brooklyn on Friday. The groups operate based on a philosophy of nonviolent action, but Justice League NYC spokesperson Keris Love said she respects the anger that fueled some of the destruction.

“Although we practice ‘Kingian’ nonviolence, we don’t take the stand of policing black people’s feelings,” Love said in an interview Monday. “Our country has made it clear that it is property and profits over people. We understand that property and profit are what is important in this country instead of people. ... If we damage something you care about, maybe you’ll hear us.” 

Washington, D.C.

The unrest in the nation’s capital centered around Lafayette Square, just north of the White House, but radiated out to neighborhoods from Upper Northwest to Georgetown to Chinatown to H Street NE. D.C. Chief of Police Peter Newsham said in a press conference Monday that police made 88 arrests over the weekend, and he said the destruction of property was “expansive.”

Minutes before D.C.’s citywide curfew went into effect Monday night at 7 p.m., President Donald Trump spoke from the Rose Garden, highlighting the thousands of armed troops he ordered to the District to try to prevent the widespread property destruction that happened Sunday night from being repeated Monday. Before he spoke, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets into the peaceful crowd. 

In the Golden Triangle, a 43-block neighborhood just north of the White House, the epicenter of the violence in the nation’s capital, at least 63 buildings had suffered broken windows over the weekend, 43 buildings were painted with graffiti and 10 buildings were looted.

“There was broken glass almost everywhere,” said Leona Agouridis, the executive director of the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District. “I saw countless cash register drawers on the sidewalk. I saw a couple of ATMs pulled out of the wall. I saw a lot of Golden Triangle trash cans were burned.”

“It is especially devastating now on the heels of COVID-19,” she added. “It’s just going to make coming back that much harder for people.”

Roadside Development founding principal Richard Lake said two windows and a door were broken at the Giant supermarket his firm owns in Shaw. The damage was minor, all things considered, he said.

“We don’t want people damaging our property, but those are objects,” Lake said. “The people that are hurt, that are feeling threatened in our society, every day of their life, is what we should be talking about today.”

Lake was 6 years old during the destructive riots in D.C. that followed King’s assassination in 1968. His father’s restaurant on Wisconsin Avenue, Zebra Room, was broken into, and his grandparents’ corner supermarket in Shaw sustained damage.

“I remember my grandparents, and my father in particular, just talked about the loss of Martin Luther King Jr.,” Lake said. “That was the bigger thing than what he had to fix at the restaurant. It wasn’t that he didn’t feel any pain or my grandparents felt no pain about losing their business, but they saw the bigger picture and taught me a valuable lesson.”

Owners Nationwide Say They Support Protests Despite The Damage To Their Properties
The front door of D.C.'s Men's Wearhouse was smashed in as the store was looted May 31, 2020.

Douglas Development Corp. Managing Principal Norman Jemal, whose company owns a large portfolio of retail and office buildings in D.C.’s East End, said many of its properties were looted, had their windows broken and had their walls covered in graffiti. 

“Taking a position on a cause is a great thing, and it’s certainly a worthy cause,” Jemal said. “But vandalism and looting is different.”

One of D.C.’s largest mixed-use developments, CityCenterDC, experienced significant property damage over the weekend. Hines, which built and manages the property, temporarily closed its property’s retail and common areas. 

DowntownDC BID CEO Neil Albert also said the downtown community supports the right to protest and is saddened by Floyd’s death, but he criticized the property damage.

“We are disappointed in the looting and destruction of property that has been occurring since Saturday evening in our community,” Albert wrote in a statement emailed to Bisnow. “The business owners, property managers and residents of DowntownDC are striving to rebuild their lives and businesses in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. The expenditures required to clean up and repair the damage, as a result of the looting, is another setback to their reopening efforts.”

Dallas

Owners Nationwide Say They Support Protests Despite The Damage To Their Properties
Spray paint covered walls of businesses all over Downtown Dallas after widespread protests Sunday, May 31, 2020.

Protests in Downtown Dallas Saturday and Sunday devolved into violence, with bricks being thrown at police officers and officers using tear gas and flash-bang grenades on crowds. Video of a Downtown business owner being beaten by protestors until he was unconscious Saturday circulated online and attracted the attention of the White House. The man, who told police he was trying to protect his business, rushed at protestors with a machete during Saturday’s protests and was taken to the hospital in stable condition.

“For the first time in my career of almost 20 years, I am recommending that businesses secure their properties, that they board up if there is a risk of damaged glass,” Downtown Dallas Inc. CEO Kourtny Garrett said.

The trail of damage in Downtown Dallas, where 700 protestors descended Saturday, ran through parts of Deep Ellum, the central business district and the West End before landing in Uptown on the west side of Woodall Rodgers Freeway. 

“We are roughly estimating at least half of our street-level businesses downtown have been impacted thus far, which is out of about 400 businesses,” Garrett said.

Deep Ellum alone ended up with more than a dozen buildings damaged by Monday morning, Deep Ellum Foundation Executive Director Stephanie Keller Hudiburg said. 

42 Real Estate owner Scott Rohrman, who owns more than a dozen properties in Downtown Dallas, lamented that the unrest came as restaurants and retailers were starting to return to normal post-pandemic. The first curfew was issued Sunday night, and on Monday, the city remained in emergency management mode.

“We are still in great patio weather, and now they are having to shut down at 7 p.m. It’s definitely hurting a lot of businesses,” Rohrman said. “It is disappointing. I completely understand the frustration in terms of the issues that are at hand, but it is frustrating that people who are working hard to make a living, especially during COVID, their stores are getting busted open and being looted.”

Wildcat Management is leading a multimillion-dollar redevelopment of the Purse Building on Elm Street in Downtown Dallas’ West End District, but the company has to reckon with major property damage before it can finish.

“They shattered the storefront,” Wildcat Management President Tanya Ragan said. “If there were windows visible and not boarded up, they were open to damage and just a tremendous amount of graffiti. There are certain places Downtown where you can’t go 10 to 15 feet without seeing graffiti.

“That being said, all of those things are replaceable and fixable,” she added.

With more protests still expected, Downtown Dallas Inc. is advising landlords and tenants to remain cautious but noted a curfew issued Sunday night appeared to mute some of the violence. Property owners and local businesses hope the looting and destruction will die down, but Garrett said she still wants Downtown to be the hub of positive civil discourse for everyone.  

“I know our country and communities are suffering injustice, and we want Downtown to be the place where we can come together and really mend those communities,” Garrett said. “But the impact of the violence has been significant on our small businesses, and we hope that we can all come together to move this city forward the way we know that Dallas can.” 

Los Angeles

Owners Nationwide Say They Support Protests Despite The Damage To Their Properties
National Guardsmen patrol The Pike Outlets in Long Beach, California, Monday, June 1, 2020.

Lori Lee stood in front of the Cold Stone Creamery’s shattered doorway at the Pike Outlets in Long Beach and politely shooed away assistance from volunteers looking to clean. The night before, looters had smashed through Lee’s business’s glass pane door and stolen two cash registers.

She and her husband saw the destruction unfold at the 392K SF Pike Outlets retail center live on television.

“There was anger. There was sorrow. My first thought was the safety of our employees,” she told Bisnow, adding that the store closed early and many employees left before the civil unrest began.

To quell any more violence, the city of Long Beach has instituted a curfew of 1 p.m. at its business district and 4 p.m. citywide. Several other cities across Southern California have also enacted a curfew. But thousands of people took part in protests Monday, and more are expected through this week.

Lee didn’t blame peaceful protestors. She commended some of them for trying to protect businesses and said she understands what the protestors are trying to do. 

"This is not a daily occurrence for me (the broken glass and vandalism),” Lee said. “As much as my heart hurts for everybody losing things, my heart breaks for the black community that has been dealing with injustice and everything for so long. It’s hard."

The Pike Outlets seemed like a scene from a dystopian movie Monday morning: More than 50 members of the National Guard dressed in fatigues and carrying high-powered firearms walked around and stood guard in front of stores. Many store windows and doors were boarded up. Other stores showed signs of destruction: shattered windows that looked like spiderwebs, missing doors and profanity-laden graffiti scrawled on walls. 

Several local residents descended on the area with brooms, dustpans and heavy-duty brushes.

Val Estin, a 21-year-old Long Beach resident, dragged a small shopping cart filled with Gatorade and water.

“This is our city,” Estin said. “Everyone knows our city is built off of small businesses. That’s what keeps the city pumping. From yesterday, we were here to get peace and justice, and to see that people from outside of our city were ruining our businesses, we have to help out.”

Chicago

After Saturday night protests in downtown Chicago turned ugly, with looters hitting Gold Coast boutiques like Versace and Dior and major department stores like Macy’s, the city closed off much of downtown, lifting bridges over the Chicago River and cutting off public transportation.

That didn’t curtail the destruction, as looters spread throughout the city on Sunday, heavily damaging retail trade areas on the North, South and West Sides. As shop owners spent Monday sweeping up broken glass and counting their losses, Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to begin easing the quarantine and reopening the city’s nonessential businesses later this week seemed doubtful.

“It really destroys the fabric of neighborhoods and their ability to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hubbard Street Group Managing Partner John McLinden said of the looting and property damage.   

Hubbard Street in 2018 completed Wicker Park Connection, a pair of luxury apartment buildings on Division Street in Chicago’s Northwest Side Wicker Park neighborhood. The 207-unit development has several boutique shops and a small-format Target store on its ground floor that was looted and emptied over several hours Sunday night.    

“It’s unfortunate that a peaceful protest turned into looting and mayhem, but we’re thankful that the other tenants, even the adjacent tenants, were not damaged,” McLinden said. “Clearly they were targeting the big national retailer.”

Owners Nationwide Say They Support Protests Despite The Damage To Their Properties
A Bluestone Lane location in Lower Manhattan had its windows smashed in during violent protests and looting Sunday, May 31, 2020.

But unlike many of the boutiques and small independent shops up and down the street, the roughly 13K SF Target serves a broad customer base, selling food, medicine and all the daily necessities.

“It was one of the few stores to remain open during the quarantine,” he said. “And now, this important lifeblood of the community is trashed.”

The 15 stores that make up NewMark Merrill Cos.’ Stony Island Plaza were all ransacked and vandalized Sunday, CEO Sandy Sigal said. The Foot Locker was cleaned out. A medical facility’s computers were all stolen, and even the supermarket wasn’t spared. 

“It’s senseless,” Sigal said. 

But he is hopeful about the future.

“The reality is that bad gets out of the starting blocks faster, but good wins the race,” he said.

McLinden said he’s sympathetic to the challenge facing Lightfoot and the police department, but he believes the city and state need to do more.

“The National Guard had no presence last night in the neighborhood, and no one was really enforcing the curfew,” he said.

Lightfoot said in a Monday morning press conference that the police are doing all they can. The city’s 911 system logged 65,000 calls in the previous 24 hours, 50,000 more than usual, and officers had arrested about 1,000 people.

“The fact is, the violence that we saw and the looting we saw spread like a wildfire,” Lightfoot said.

McLinden said the disorder could have a long-term impact even after retailers clean up, restock and open for business.

“I hope the mayor takes a stronger position and can provide security for our residential and commercial tenants, or people are just going to want to leave the city,” he said.

Atlanta

Owners Nationwide Say They Support Protests Despite The Damage To Their Properties
Many storefronts in Downtown Atlanta were badly damaged Friday, May 29, as violent protests consumed the city.

The Embassy Suites in Downtown Atlanta, overlooking Centennial Olympic Park, managed to stay open during the coronavirus pandemic. But Friday night, as looters smashed street-level windows and stole alcohol from the hotel's Ruth’s Chris Steak House, employees and the few guests staying at the hotel were evacuated, said David Marvin, whose Legacy Ventures built and owns the hotel.

“Really, it was a very scary Friday night,” Marvin said. 

Marvin said windows were also smashed at Legacy Ventures’ nearby Hilton Garden Inn hotels and his string of restaurants at 300 Marietta St., including Stats Brewpub. Still, he said he was sympathetic to the plight of the protestors and views the destruction as separate from the demonstrations.

“It was just looting, greedy looting,” Marvin said. “There is a tremendous amount of property damage Downtown as a result of the looters having their way.”

“I don't consider those people protesting. I consider those people taking advantage,” The Shopping Center Group Chairman David Birnbrey said. “I salute the people who protest.”

TSCG represents owners of two hard-hit retail centers in Buckhead: Across Lenox and the Buckhead Exchange. At Across Lenox, an AT&T-anchored strip center across from Lenox Square Mall, protestors smashed in windows, wrecked the sprinkler system and set the store on fire, Birnbrey said.

Max Mandelis arrived Saturday morning to her property at 330 Marietta St., two blocks from CNN Center, to find all four of her street-level windows broken. Mandelis is a vice president at Transwestern in Atlanta and owns 330 Marietta St. with her husband.

“Nobody was hurt, and this is just property,” Mandelis said. “It's a lot of damage and it's a lot of waste.”

She thinks the roots of the unrest go deeper than police brutality and stem from Atlanta’s income inequality, which Bloomberg reported as the worst in the nation in 2018.

“It's kind of shitty that we keep needing to have the reminder that black lives matter,” she said. “Considering the population of Atlanta, the demographics of Atlanta, the fact that we don't have more people of color who are brokers … who are commercial property owners, we've got to ask that question. Right now, we need to be looking for guidance from our black friends, our black colleagues and from our black leaders who have been organizing long before this.”

Margelis said she has been vacillating between hope and despair since the protests.

“[Some] days, I'm like, ‘Mother Earth can go ahead and send up a meteor and put us out of our misery,'” she said. “We may be too far gone. We may need to go ahead and hit the reset button.” 

Marvin said the destruction at his properties won’t discourage him from remaining part of the city’s development fabric.

“It's especially discouraging in Atlanta, which has this legacy of leadership in civil and human rights. These were just thugs,” he said. “I'm a very resilient guy. I'm discouraged, but I love Downtown. I'm not quite sure what the path is, what the schedule is, but we will rebuild.”

New York City

Owners Nationwide Say They Support Protests Despite The Damage To Their Properties
Police cars were among the chief targets of looters and vandals as demonstrations turned violent.

Glass and debris covered the sidewalks of Manhattan’s high-end SoHo shopping district Monday morning after a night of looting.

As thousands protested through Brooklyn, into the streets of downtown Manhattan to the area around Union Square on Sunday night, looters broke into SoHo storefronts and ran out carrying arms full of merchandise.

“It especially hit home for me as I saw these protests in Union Square in New York in front of our buildings last night and the night before,” Related CEO Jeff Blau told Bisnow Monday. “To see that type of disruption is very disheartening and an unfortunate moment in our history.”

While the New York Police Department doesn’t yet have data on how many commercial properties were hit in these raids, the department made over 350 arrests over the week, primarily of those engaging in looting or violent behavior, an NYPD spokesperson said.

Designer stores like Dolce & Gabbana, Coach, Dior, Gucci and Chanel were among those hit, along with Walgreens, GameStop, Urban Outfitters, Rolex and smaller boutiques.

The Real Estate Board of New York, the city’s top real estate lobby, condemned the destruction of property but said it was working to address the issues that were at the heart of the protests.  

“While we condemn violent and destructive actions in our city and across the country, we will not ignore the sadness, pain and understandable frustration the black community continues to experience,” REBNY President James Whelan said in a statement. “Right now our industry is focusing on how we can come together to provide real solutions and not just lip service to address these issues.” 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said New York City would be under a curfew Monday and Tuesday, and the police presence over those days would be doubled from 4,000 to 8,000

“I stand behind the protestors and their message, but unfortunately there are people who are looking to take advantage of and discredit this moment for their own personal gain,” Cuomo said in a joint statement with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio Monday. “The violence and the looting that has gone on in New York City has been bad for the city, the state and this entire national movement, undermining and distracting from this righteous cause.” 

Blau, whose company owns more than 60,000 apartments across the country and is a co-developer of the $25B Hudson Yards project in Manhattan, said Related’s properties suffered some damage, but “nothing significant.” He said the pandemic has accelerated all kinds of trends in the country, including the outrage at police killings of unarmed black men.

“I think it probably makes us all think about how we can do things better on a go-forward basis,” Blau said. “This event might have started these protests. But really, this has been going on for a very, very long time, and I think [inequality] is probably one of the greatest risks to our country's future that I can imagine. And I think it's a topic that we all, as business leaders, need to focus on to try to make things better.”

Miriam Hall and Dees Stribling contributed to this story.

CORRECTION, JUNE 3, 2:50 P.M. ETA previous version of this story incorrectly spelled NewMark Merrill Cos. President Sandy Sigal's name. This story has been updated.