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Leading By Example: How CRE Companies Are Stepping Up To Help


Following a massive fire that engulfed a nearly completed five-story residential tower construction site at the end of February, developers of the already obstacle-ridden, 54-acre, mixed-use Eastern Wharf project in Savannah, Georgia, were understandably discouraged. But according to Mariner Group principal Trent Germano, they quickly pulled their team together and came to an agreement: They would not let this disaster define them. 

"It became a rally cry that brought our team closer together and showed us how important camaraderie and morale are on a job site,” he said.

But almost as soon as they were able to get back to work on the project, the coronavirus struck, derailing the project yet again. Fortunately for Eastern Wharf, multifamily construction was deemed essential business, and fortunately again, their team showed up for them every day.

"We wanted to show our gratitude to our team and to keep their morale up," Germano said. "Providing lunch from a differently locally owned restaurant seemed like a good way for us to say thank you to our team. It was also an easy way to show support for the local restaurant industry."

As of this week, Germano said management has purchased more than 1,000 lunches for their workers from local restaurants struggling through the shutdown with pared-down service. He called it "just one small way we can help in these challenging times."

For some CRE companies, it's lunches. For others, it's donating time and expertise to people in their communities — regardless of whether those people are or ever will be customers. For yet others, it's donating hundreds of thousands of square feet to house emergency medical supplies, or putting tens of millions of dollars into personal protective equipment, meals and employees' emergency healthcare bills.

Large and small, these acts add up. Here's what CRE is doing to fight the pandemic near and far.

Some are making space for those in need.

In early March, CBRE in the UK put out a call: It asked its network and the broader industry to come together in support of National Health Service workers by offering unoccupied properties, available parking and storage space suitable for hospital staff.

Among the volunteers was Ballymore, donating the use of parking space to the NHS, and London property developer Galliard Homes, donating a 61K SF warehouse for emergency use for medical supply storage. 

Meanwhile, Prologis expanded its existing charitable relationship with Space for Good, a program that helps utilize available space to provide temporary rent-free housing for those in need:

"As the coronavirus has spread, we’ve offered unoccupied buildings and yard space for relief efforts to local state and federal agencies in the U.S. and hospitals and other relief organizations throughout the world,"  Prologis Chief Information Officer Gene Reilly told GlobeSt. To date, the company has donated approximately 1M SF across eleven different markets and $4.4M in in-kind rent to government agencies and health organizations. 

Some are making contributions to coronavirus relief funds in their communities.

When employees of Tucson, Arizona-based investment firm Holualoa Cos. expressed to leadership that they wanted to find a way to give back to their community, the management team decided to share the decision-making.

Each of the company’s 30 employees was allocated $2K to donate to a coronavirus-related charity of their choice.  

The team fanned their donations out across Southern Arizona, supporting the causes that moved them most, from domestic violence shelters to community food banks.

Rubenstein Partners, developer of Williamsburg’s 25 Kent in New York, also focused on its home community, donating $10K to St. Nicks Alliance — a nonprofit caring for seniors and low-income residents of North Brooklyn.

"North Brooklyn is our home and it’s important for communities to stick together through challenging times like this," Rubenstein Vice President and Director of Investments Jeff Fronek told Bisnow. "We felt strongly about supporting St. Nicks Alliance as their heroic work is directly helping the elderly, who are some of the most vulnerable members in our community at this time. We hope that our donation inspires others to contribute to their efforts."

Earlier in the month, a much bigger company made a much bigger contribution to fight the virus: Blackstone contributed $10M to New York State’s COVID-19 First Responders Fund and an additional $5M in donations to various organizations that support frontline healthcare workers and other vulnerable populations in New York City. 

Some are sharing their expertise, pro bono.

Beyond the most obvious hardships, there were all kinds of other things wearing down the sanity of small-business owners while they waded through their SBA loan applications and decided how to manage their staff. Office lease holders needed help deciphering their terms and rights. Property owners, office tenants and business owners were walloped by the demand for internet connectivity their spaces weren't equipped to provide.

SquareFoot’s brokerage team is now serving as advisers to provide lease advice pro bono to entrepreneurs “who may not fully understand their leases and their options in this current climate,” according to a company spokesperson. “We are offering insight and comfort to people in need of comprehension and clarity. Especially for those who are looking to avoid layoffs as a cost-cutting measure and turn to line item two — their office lease. That's where we've come in to assist them through time and effort and attention.” 

The team has completed 60 free lease consultations with dozens more on the calendar.

Meanwhile, Younity is offering pro bono work to landlords to help navigate wireless infrastructure needs free of charge or commitment. The Younity team is helping property and business owners optimize and secure WiFi networks to keep critical systems up and running 24/7, advising on how to access systems and networks remotely and creating guides for tenants on how to improve their internet quality to help facilitate the surge in network activity due to distance learning and telecommuting. 

Some are finding ways to better support their staff.

Cushman & Wakefield pledged $5M to employee assistance programs for those impacted by the virus. Under its Global Employee Assistance Fund, it has established an Immediate Relief Fund that distributes grants of up to $250 and a Disaster and Hardship Fund to make larger payouts to harder-hit team members.

"We have a responsibility to care for our employees with the same level of dedication that they’re showing our clients right now," Cushman & Wakefield Executive Chairman and CEO Brett White said in a statement, after committing to forgo a quarter of his base salary through the end of the year as a contribution to the fund. "Thousands of our janitors, tradespeople and building managers leave the safety of their homes each day to ensure that essential buildings are clean, safe and operational during this pandemic."

As of this week, CBRE is making available employee hardship grants of up to $500 for food or other immediate needs, and payments of up to $2,500 for transportation, rent or mortgages, utilities, child care, healthcare or funeral expenses out of a broader $15M coronavirus relief fund. The company has more than 100,000 staff globally.

And the goodwill is happening at all levels.

Individual CBRE employees are finding their own ways to contribute: Commercial Property Executive reports that Chairman and Head of New York City Capital Markets Darcy Stacom and her CBRE colleagues worked with the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce to source more than 100,000 masks for hospitals in their home communities. 

The pandemic has presented the world with brand-new challenges, and President and CEO Bob Sulentic said it is important and necessary that responses from company leadership be unprecedented, too. 

UPDATED, MAY 6, 11:40 A.M. ET: This story previously stated Prologis had donated 450K SF in five markets. The numbers have grown. The story has been updated.