In a year that halted so much of everyday life, Washington Prime Group Inc. (NYSE: WPG) town centers across the country met 2020 with resilience, persistence and compassion for guests, communities and partners. The Company reimagined countless events and activations to continue to foster connections in a time of social distancing, launching numerous industry-leading initiatives designed to support small businesses and community organizations alike, all while abiding by strict local, state and federal mandates and restrictions.
Supporting Small Business
While supporting small businesses and the community is always a focus of Washington Prime Group, innovation had never been as important as it was in 2020 given the unprecedented business challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As many small businesses had to close during the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, local entrepreneurs found it difficult to pay operating expenses such as payroll, insurance, utilities, loan interest, inventory and, of course, their rent. Because of the essential role small businesses play as a major driver of the U.S. economy, and the fact that it’s the right thing to do, Washington Prime Group partnered with the Institute for Justice Clinic on Entrepreneurship and members of the University of Chicago faculty to launch the Open for Small Business initiative. Nobel Laureate Richard Thaler, Freakonomics author Steven Levitt and Institute Director Elizabeth Kregor joined forces with experts from Washington Prime Group to address some of the most pressing current needs of small businesses, including through the development of a standardized lease modification template.
To date, Washington Prime Group provided $7 million in rent subsidies to small businesses through its Open for Small Business initiative. This includes $4.5 million in economic relief to minority-owned small businesses, $0.6 million in allowances for new local tenants in 2020, and over $0.5 million in emergency capital for existing local and regional tenants. In addition, Open for Small Business has hosted or promoted more than 30 complimentary webinars which provide valuable resources and insights to small businesses.
Washington Prime Group launched Retail To-Go, connecting physical retail and e-commerce to provide shoppers a convenient choice for shopping based on their comfort level. Through Retail To-Go, shoppers can make an order at participating retailers and then arrange for a pick up at designated locations. Retail To-Go continues to provide a contactless and convenient way for guests to shop for their favorite items and stay connected to their town centers.
To further support small businesses, Washington Prime Group teamed up with Coca-Cola for an exciting text-to-win sweepstakes over the holiday season. Guests who entered the sweepstakes were entered for a chance to win Coca-Cola swag and a $5,000 shopping spree, while Washington Prime Group contributed $0.25 per entry (up to $25,000) to its Open for Small Business initiative.
Washington Prime Group continued to innovate during this challenging year, including with the introduction of Fulventory, the Company’s last mile fulfilment initiative. Fulventory has been met with tenant response which has surpassed the Company’s expectations as illustrated by the recent leasing of an 80,000 SF medical logistics, distribution and fulfilment facility for WVU Medicine, the medical system at West Virginia University; an inventory clearance facility to a sporting goods retailer; and several letters of intent and ongoing discussions with existing and prospective tenants to address portfolio wide fulfilment solutions.
Designed to maintain consumer loyalty and incent a return to the town centers following COVID-19 retail closures, Washington Prime Group developed Well Picked Goods, a weekly digital curation of products from tenants at a particular town center, as selected by the property’s General Manager. Through Well Picked Goods, guests who purchased products from the curated list were eligible to receive a gift card once the town center reopened. Washington Prime Group CEO Lou Conforti enlivened the initiative with his entertaining and engaging product descriptions, maintaining a strong connection with guests during a time when town centers were closed to the public due to local stay at home orders.
The newly launched Tangible™ Collective is an innovative concept which brings together the best of brick-and-mortar and e-commerce and offers guests the opportunity to try unique, online-only products in a physical space. This concept also offers support to community-centric brands and exposure to budding entrepreneurs at a time when it is most critical.
Additionally, the Company developed and launched a new website to showcase the innovation of Washington Prime Group’s retail experience. The Experience Retail® Innovation website launched at the end of 2020 with a high-energy and engaging webcast for tenants, investors, and the community.
Committed to Caring
To date, Washington Prime Group town centers have hosted more than 1,000 goodwill efforts as part of WPG Cares, the Company’s initiative where local management teams embrace their roles as community ambassadors and work with local organizations to transform town centers into spaces for social good. When stay at home orders shut down many town centers, the Company found ways to remain an integral part of the community, including through hosting blood drives, distributing meals for students unable to attend school, serving as a socially distant shelter for flood victims and a suitable location for voter registration, COVID-19 testing sites and even a socially distant high school commencement ceremony (or celebrating the resilient Class of 2020 with a #ScholarSpree). In these instances and countless others, local management teams recognized a need in their community and felt empowered to deliver when it was needed most.
One in five children live with a serious mental illness that interferes with everyday life, and the results of social distancing have exacerbated those challenges for many. So, Washington Prime Group teamed up with the country’s largest not-for-profit freestanding pediatric health care network, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, for its On Our Sleeves™ movement to transform children’s mental health through education, advocacy and research. The Company’s KidX Clubs® shared weekly emails with resources and activities created by Nationwide Children’s Hospital behavioral health experts that were designed to enlighten families on mental health and overall wellness topics.
WPG’s KidX Club® partnered with Highlights, an award-winning global family media brand, to launch its first virtual KidX summer program at a time when working parents were scrambling to determine how best to entertain kids at home with limited camp options. The summer KidX Club powered by Highlights@Home offered free, twice-weekly collections of themed activity packs, including stories, puzzles, videos, games, jokes, and even suggestions for performing random acts of kindness.
To support families and teachers preparing for a back-to-school season unlike any other, Washington Prime Group encouraged guests to donate school items for Stuff the Bus drives, including more than 6,400 backpacks for students. Ashland Town Center, Southgate Mall and Mesa Mall all hosted Stuff the Bus school supply drives to benefit K-12 students in their local communities. Mesa Mall collected school supplies and raised nearly $3,000 in donations, all of which benefitted the 22,000 students in local School District 51.
Town centers also hosted socially distant or drive-through teacher appreciation events, including exclusive discounts, live music, raffles and complimentary snacks to support and recognize educators. Orange Park Mall hosted a drive-through teacher appreciation event, where volunteers gave out free bags of classroom supplies, valued at approximately $100 each, to 860 local teachers. Anderson Mall hosted a free lunch to thank local teachers and distributed gift bags to the first 200 teachers. The flexibility and innovation of WPG’s back-to-school events allowed town centers to help families and teachers make valuable connections, despite an unusual year.
Sharing the Love
In February, prior to the pandemic, Washington Prime Group hosted a first-of-its-kind SweeTok Meet and Greet social media influencer event driving thousands of guests to town centers across the country. Larger than expected crowds gathered to meet 21 of TikTok’s most popular celebrities, with some fans driving up to eight hours to attend.
Art installations were also a key focal point of the Company’s Valentine’s Day celebrations through the #PostYourLove activation. Guests shared handwritten notes of love and encouragement on Post-It notes in common areas of town centers and were encouraged to share on social media using #PostYourLove. With approximately 15,000 love notes shared across town centers in February, the Company demonstrated its commitment to cultivating an inclusive community experience.
Experiencing Local Art
To emphasize community pride, Washington Prime Group enlisted the help of local artists to install approximately 50 murals at town centers across the country. Guests could see artists hard at work and watch their vision take shape over time. Many installations played into local themes, such as incredible Western landscapes, Kentucky Derby roses, beloved school colors and mascots. Ashland Town Center’s exterior art activation depicts a horseshoe design with roses to symbolize the Kentucky Derby’s run for the roses. There is also a silhouette of the famous Ashland bridge, as well as the town center’s social media handle so guests can tag Ashland Town Center in their photos. The Wolf Ranch Town Center mural features red poppies, painted by a local artist. The mural will become part of Georgetown’s annual Red Poppy Tour each spring.
Communities connected over mural installations both in-person and online. The Canvas Project reached an audience of more than 7 million and the murals continue to inspire guests every day. Additionally, Washington Prime Group’s headquarters in Columbus, Ohio received its own mural reflecting values of empathy, love and respect.
Reimagined for Joy
Washington Prime Group reimagined many beloved fall and holiday traditions for a socially distant experience, including Candy Crawl and Fall Community Day. Many town centers transformed their parking lots into big screen watch parties for sports fans with activities and games for the whole family. Town centers were also proud to host a safe space for children to trick-or-treat with socially distant indoor trick-or-treating, drive-through trunk-or-treat events, Boo & Brew and more.
Town centers are always a source of joy and much-anticipated tradition during the holiday season. Team members worked tirelessly to reimagine how events could continue safely throughout 2020. Through their hard work, Santa was able to greet thousands of children from his reinvented North Pole, bringing joy and magical holiday memories to families while adhering to health and safety guidelines. Many guests also enjoyed tree lighting events, drive-in holiday movies, live music, ice skating, roller skating and virtual Santa visits, providing families with opportunities to make lasting holiday memories while staying safe.
Throughout the year, Washington Prime Group displayed its commitment to diversity and inclusion, including through celebrating National Diversity Week in October. Recognizing diversity means something different to town centers across the country, so the Company empowered its local management teams to celebrate cultural holidays that are valued most in their communities through the creation of activation guides. These guides included resources to help honor important events like Native American Heritage Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, Women’s Equality Day, and Pride Month, among others. During the holiday season, many town centers also hosted menorah lightings and offered a gathering place for guests to celebrate (while socially distanced) Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.
The Envelope, Please…
Again and again, Washington Prime Group was honored for its innovation in the retail industry, commitment to its people and communities, and excellence in marketing . The Company received a Gold Award for Best Overall Kiosk from the 2020 ICSC Visual Victories Awards and 22 MarCom Awards for several activations and publications, including SweeTok, ScholarSpree and WPG Cares.
In addition, town centers were recognized for their community stewardship, including the Arts Plus Business Connection Award from the Aurora Chamber of Commerce (Town Center at Aurora); the 2020 Chamber Champion Award from the Lincolnwood Chamber of Commerce (Lincolnwood Town Center); earning praise as a Distinguished Entry in the Kukulu Hale Awards, which recognizes excellence in Hawaii’s commercial real estate industry (Pearlridge Center renovation); and Weberstown Mall’s solar panel installation project was honored with the 2020 Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce P3 Stewardship Award.
Yes, We’re Open
Across the country, Washington Prime Group welcomed hundreds of new tenants to its town centers, including enticing restaurants, family-owned businesses and beloved local shops, from Burlap & Birch at Ashland Town Center to Westminster Mall’s Donut Life Museum. 2020 adaptive reuse openings included: Dunham’s Sports, WVU Medicine and Ollie’s Bargain Outlet at Morgantown Mall; Dunham’s Sports at Markland Mall; Morris Furniture at both The Mall at Fairfield Commons and Dayton Mall; and FieldhouseUSA at The Outlet Collection™ | Seattle.
Local management teams maintain a rigorous focus on bringing the latest retail concepts and exciting experiences to guests. The need for human connection remained the same, if not more important than ever before. Washington Prime Group was proud to be a place of connection for community members and businesses alike.
About Washington Prime Group
Washington Prime Group Inc. is a retail REIT and a recognized leader in the ownership, management, acquisition and development of retail properties. The Company combines a national real estate portfolio with its expertise across the entire shopping center sector to increase cash flow through rigorous management of assets and provide new opportunities to retailers looking for growth throughout the U.S.
Washington Prime Group®, Outlet Collection™, Tangible™, and Experience Retail® are registered trademarks of the Company. The Company also holds a patent (U.S. Pat. No. 10,540,702 B2) for the Tangible interactive marketing concept. Learn more at www.washingtonprime.com. To learn more about WPG’s events and activations, follow Washington Prime Group on Instagram.
This news release contains "forward-looking statements" within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 which represent the current expectations and beliefs of management of Washington Prime Group Inc. ("WPG") concerning the proposed transactions, the anticipated consequences and benefits of the transactions and the targeted close date for the transactions, and other future events and their potential effects on WPG, including, but not limited to, statements relating to anticipated financial and operating results, future liquidity, the Company’s plans, objectives, expectations and intentions, cost savings and other statements, including words such as "anticipate," "believe," "confident," "plan," "estimate," "expect," "intend," "will," "should," "may," and other similar expressions. Such statements are based upon the current beliefs and expectations of WPG’s management, and involve known and unknown risks, uncertainties, and other factors which may cause the actual results, performance, or achievements of WPG to be materially different from future results, performance or achievements expressed or implied by such forward-looking statements. Such factors include, without limitation: changes in asset quality and credit risk; ability to sustain revenue and earnings growth; changes in political, economic or market conditions generally and the real estate and capital markets specifically; the impact of increased competition; the availability of capital and financing; tenant or joint venture partner(s) bankruptcies; the failure to increase store occupancy and same-store operating income; risks associated with the acquisition, disposition, (re)development, expansion, leasing and management of properties; changes in market rental rates; trends in the retail industry; relationships with anchor tenants; risks relating to joint venture properties; costs of common area maintenance; competitive market forces; the level and volatility of interest rates; the rate of revenue increases as compared to expense increases; the financial stability of tenants within the retail industry; the restrictions in current financing arrangements or the failure to comply with such arrangements; the liquidity of real estate investments; the impact of changes to tax legislation and WPG’s tax positions; losses associated with closures, failures and stoppages associated with the spread and proliferation of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic; to qualify as a real estate investment trust; the failure to refinance debt at favorable terms and conditions; loss of key personnel; material changes in the dividend rates on securities or the ability to pay dividends on common shares or other securities; possible restrictions on the ability to operate or dispose of any partially-owned properties; the failure to achieve earnings/funds from operations targets or estimates; the failure to achieve projected returns or yields on (re)development and investment properties (including joint ventures); expected gains on debt extinguishment; changes in generally accepted accounting principles or interpretations thereof; terrorist activities and international hostilities; the unfavorable resolution of legal or regulatory proceedings; the impact of future acquisitions and divestitures; assets that may be subject to impairment charges; significant costs related to environmental issues; changes in LIBOR reporting practices or the method in which LIBOR is determined; and other risks and uncertainties, including those detailed from time to time in WPG’s statements and periodic reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, including those described under "Risk Factors". The forward-looking statements in this communication are qualified by these risk factors. Each statement speaks only as of the date of this press release and WPG undertakes no obligation to update or revise any forward-looking statements to reflect new information, subsequent events or circumstances. Actual results may differ materially from current projections, expectations, and plans, if any. Investors, potential investors and others should give careful consideration to these risks and uncertainties.
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