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CRE Gives Back in the COVID-19 Era

Food1st will reopen kitchens and feed first responders Photos courtesy of Unsplash, The Four Seasons
Food1st will reopen kitchens and feed first responders Photos courtesy of Unsplash, The Four Seasons

From feeding the hungry and housing medical personnel and first responders to offering support to business seeking government assistance, commercial real estate companies in New York City and around the country are finding a way to give back during the coronavirus crisis.

SL Green Realty Corp. has launched Food1st, a non-profit foundation to be organized as a 501(c)(3), to deliver thousands of meals daily to front-line, first responders and medical personnel, elderly New Yorkers and food insecure families. In addition to addressing the increasing demand for food assistance across New York City, Food1st will also help revitalize New York City’s food and beverage industry by re-activating restaurant kitchens to serve the city and bring restaurant staff safely back to work, the company said. SL Green has contributed $1 million as a down payment to the independent organization in the hope that other companies, organizations and individuals will join the effort to address this crisis.

“The vision for Food1st is to partner with our tenants, beginning with the great Chef Daniel Boulud, to provide meals to those who need them, safely bring food workers a paycheck and restore vitality and energy to the City we love,” said Marc Holliday, SL Green Chairman and chief executive officer. “By establishing and seeding the Food1st non-profit, we hope others will join us in the fight to alleviate the food shortage in New York City caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The initiative will work in partnership with Boulud, who will open a new restaurant at SL Green’s One Vanderbilt later this year, and add other restaurants and non-profit organizations to ensure the widest possible preparation and distribution of food. The effort will initially provide up to 1,600 meals per day to New York City’s frontline medical workers. A second phase includes additional SL Green tenants and partners to reach New York’s most food-insecure populations. Outreach is underway to additional SL Green tenants, non-profit partners and neighbors to quickly expand the program, reach more New Yorkers and support some of the thousands of food and beverage workers currently without work. The restaurants will provide fully-packaged, healthy meals, with volunteers helping to load and deliver meals.

The hospitality industry also stepped up in the early days of the crisis by donating their rooms to house medical personnel, as well as for patients dealing with other ailments.

The Four Seasons Hotel on 57th Street and the Room Mate Grace Hotel are providing their facilities to serve as free housing for nurses, doctors and medical personnel currently responding to the outbreak. The Wythe Hotel is offering free hotel rooms through April for nurses, doctors and medical personnel responding to the crisis.

“New York is fighting a war against this virus and we need all the help we can get,” said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in late March. “The generosity of these companies, organizations and individuals — and many others coming forward every day to offer support — will play a critical role in our mission to bolster our hospital surge capacity, support frontline workers and get people the help they need. On behalf of the family of New York, I am deeply grateful for their generosity. We will get through this difficult time together, with the kindness, strength and tenacity that New York is known for.”

The St. Regis Hotel and the Palace Hotel are providing their facilities for non-critical care patients or medical personnel. Yotel is providing its facility for non-critical care patients for a month.

Airbnb launched a global initiative to help connect those responding to the COVID-19 pandemic with safe and convenient places to stay while they work, with a goal of helping to house 100,000 healthcare professionals, relief workers and first responders around the world. Airbnb will waive all fees for stays arranged through this initiative. Examples of safe hosting recommendations include listing entire homes and agreeing to a number of safety requirements, including enhanced cleaning, social distancing with their guests and allowing 72 hours between stays. Airbnb’s partners or affiliates will ensure that stays are COVID-19 related and responders are familiar with safety protocols.

Other firms are helping businesses stay in business while the city remains shut down. Brooklyn-based CRE finance firm Eastern Union is providing free loan approval assistance for companies applying for loans under the Small Business Administration-Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The PPP offers forgivable loans to small businesses to enable them to pay employees and for other monthly operating expenses. The first round of funding was committed in just days.

“The main priority for those who did not apply for funding yet — or if applicants have been denied, are in a holding paradigm or are waiting for confirmation — is to apply again and get their loan application into the system as soon as possible,” said Ira Zlotowitz, founder and president of Eastern Union.

The Four Seasons in Midtown is hosting medical staff

Eastern created a partnership with Cross River Bank of Teaneck NJ and Kabbage — leaders in the lending and technology marketplaces — to push as many applications through as possible.

At no charge for Eastern Union’s assistance, many clients successfully received funding and are now covering their monthly operating expenses. The entire Eastern Union team is now working around the clock to review new applications. once the funding floodgates for the second phase are reopened.

“During this trying time, it’s important that we look out for each other,” said Zlotowitz. “Eastern Union quickly pivoted and was the first brokerage to launch this program for free. If we stand by one another, and unite, we will get through this challenging period.”

National companies also are contributing. Early in the pandemic, Salt Lake City, Utah-based Extra Space Storage donated masks held in storage for emergencies and offered free storage to hospitals and first responders.

Employees in hurricane-prone areas noted that their hurricane emergency response kits included N95 masks. Lead by employees, hundreds of stores banded together and donated their extra masks — over 10,000 in total — to hospitals in need. Additionally, the company has decided to offer two months of free storage for new rentals to hospitals, hospital employees and first responders. Any of Extra Space Storage’s 1,800 locations across the country offered storage space to help.

Through its CoreGiving foundation, ShopCore Properties, manager of The Shops at SkyView Center in Queens and Canarsie Plaza in Brooklyn as well as grocery-anchored centers around the U.S., shifted its Battle of the [NCAA] Brackets challenge into a “Brackets to Backpacks” fundraiser that donates all proceeds to food banks. As of press time, more than $567,000 had been raised, with funds distributed regularly. Among the recipients is the Food Bank of New York City. (Full disclosure: ShopCore is a corporate client of the author.)

To support the small businesses in its portfolio, Philadelphia-based mall owner PREIT launched “Shop Local” pages on all of its websites.

“Our local businesses are among the enterprises hardest hit by this pandemic. Without robust digital marketing budgets, they are at a disadvantage to their national counterparts. We took steps to support those most in need, including putting our marketing power behind our tenants,” said Joseph F. Coradino, chairman and CEO. “Our goal is to take another step in putting our communities first and be even better partners with our tenants moving forward.”

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