Edens CEO Jodie McLean Kicks Off CPE-MHN Summit

The retail real estate leader discussed the partnerships that have been formed and strengthened due to the pandemic.
Edens CEO Jodie McLean

When the pandemic hit, the real estate industry responded with advocacy and collaboration, according to Edens CEO Jodie McLean.

The Real Estate Roundtable, for example, moved quickly to be a voice of the broader industry by working with the federal government on policy issues, while the International Council of Shopping Centers advocated not only for retail and retail property owners but for the many small businesses impacted. McLean sits on the board of both organizations.

Further, real estate companies banded together to find solutions to the unprecedented situation.

“I saw first-hand the leadership working tirelessly,” said McLean during a fireside chat with CPE Editorial Director Suzann Silverman at the CPE-MHN Summit. “I saw this exchange of best practices between leaders of peer companies. The focus was how do we help our teams and our retail partners make it through this time together, collectively, not as competitors but as one group.”

Retail property owners are also working with tenants like never before: “The retail industry, from the landlord side, has foregone about $60 billion dollars in rent payments to do what they can to help retailers make it through this time, so I think the partnership has been incredible.”

Fortunately, she said, this has not been a financial crisis. While it has been frightening, the Federal Reserve has also stepped in and kept the economy relatively stable.

At Edens

McLean’s firm owns 125 open air community-focused retail centers. By the end of March, 70 percent of its venues had been mandated closed or radically modified. “Everything that we believed in we had to rethink,” she said.

The first thing Edens did to deal with the crisis was move from decentralized decision-making to a centralized approach. The idea was that managers would be empowered by the clarity, the consistency and the exchange of ideas.

“We would have long strategy meetings once a quarter, but this is twice a week for 30 minutes and it’s made all the difference in the world,” said McLean.

The company also communicated intensely with tenants, making them aware of the advocacy efforts, helping them with PPP loan applications, and familiarizing them with other relief programs.

The company has also worked with tenants to restructure 65 percent of leases based on each individual tenant’s situation; converted 120 site plans to allow for the sharp increase in BOPIS (buy online, pick up in store); and required masks at their centers so tenants did not have to themselves.

“I feel like they’re asking a lot of us if I was really honest, but I think we have a lot to give back and these partnerships will be solidified for many, many years to come,” said McLean.

The company has tried to maintain the sense of community life at its properties by hosting drive-in movies and art galleries, opening new rooftop spaces and expanding outdoor dining.

The need for “radical communication” within the company and with tenants is just one of the key lessons McLean has learned. Another is the importance of making employees and customers feel physically and emotionally safe. And still another, she said, is the resiliency of the human spirit: “That resilience is incredible.”