Covid-19 has presented property owners and developers with unique challenges, and for Atterbury Europe that is compounded by having operations in three different territories. Asset manager Vlad Valcea gives some insights into the strategy.
Europe has been hard hit by Covid-19; but have you found that one of the territories AE operates in has been more affected than the others, in terms of restrictions and regulations imposed on the populations?
Measures in Romania and Cyprus have been quite strict since a state of emergency was declared around mid-March in both countries, followed by nationwide lockdowns, curfews and out-of-home travelling restrictions. Currently, shopping malls are still closed, but we hope that governments will allow re-openings in Romania by 15 June and in Cyprus on 9 June. On the other hand, shopping malls in Serbia were allowed to re-open much quicker, since 8 May, which was positively received by everyone.
How has that impacted on Atterbury Europe’s operations and what has been the strategy to deal with this reality?
I believe operations were impacted the same as for all our peers across Europe. We had to keep shopping malls running at a minimum in order to allow the essential services/tenants to trade and the office towers to be accessible, in accordance with the local laws. Meanwhile, our mall staff have limited their presence in the malls only to critical situations, but otherwise everyone else has been working from home and relying on daily chains of video conferences to deal with tasks and issues arising, as travel across countries and cities has obviously been nonexistent. I believe that I speak on behalf of everyone in saying that the past couple of months have been incredibly hectic and that working from home has taken on a different dimension, with both pluses and minuses.
Can you outline the different approaches you’ve had to adopt in your dealings with local suppliers/tenants/partners in the different territories in order to accommodate the legal requirements?
Safety and security measures are the priorities at the forefront of our reopening strategies, focusing on our staff, our mall customers, our tenants and our contractors too. Creating the safe and appropriate environments for all stakeholders and communicating this accordingly will help us all recover to normality, sooner rather than later.
Certain general rules and legal requirements are similar across the countries, such as social distancing (ranging between 1.5 – 2 metres), the installation of hand sanitisers at the building entrances and PPE for staff members who are in constant contact with the public (such as facemasks and gloves for info points, cleaning, security and in-store staff). In addition to that, in Romania and Cyprus we have taken the initiative to implement body temperature checkups, either through the use of thermal cameras or digital thermometers, and furthermore to provide optional PPE for customers entering our malls. Social distancing rules, together with basic sanitation and health guidelines are being communicated to customers across all countries through all our platforms and tools, including navigation and signalling materials throughout the common areas.
What measures have you set in place when handling tenants unable to operate in malls that were closed by government decree?
These measures are being dealt with differently in each country, depending on several local factors. However, Atterbury Europe’s general approach in relation to tenants has been one of solidarity, support and cooperation across all fronts, without trying to pass the blame during this completely unexpected crisis that has affected us all in ways we never imagined.
How many different malls are affected in total; and how have the restrictions been eased, if at all?
With the exception of Serbia where shopping malls have been trading since early May, there are six shopping malls from Romania and Cyprus still closed and expected to reopen by mid-June. Only the supermarkets, essential services and stores with street/outside entrances are currently trading. Meanwhile, the seven office buildings across these countries are open and used by the tenants in line with their internal staffing policies.
Is there clarity yet on when development operations will be able to resume in the individual territories?
Measures on construction activities have been relaxed since early May in all three countries and therefore allowed works to return to normal, despite some difficulties still existing at the borders concerning delayed deliveries of materials and the impossibility of foreign workers to re-enter into the countries. Nonetheless, the lifting of restrictions for construction sites has positively influenced our ongoing developments in Iulius Town Timisoara and BEO Mall Belgrade, which is due to open by the end of June.