In the years since 9/11 there has been a lot of talk about the need to beef up security at commercial facilities. Shopping center owners, however, have been slow to adapt as three recent incidents reveal.
On Dec. 6, a 22-year-old convert to Islam named Derrick Shareef was arrested for allegedly planning to carry out a terror attack on the 783,167-square-foot CherryVale mall in Rockford, Ill., owned by CBL & Associates Properties, Inc. Shareef was arrested when trying to purchase handheld grenades and a handgun from an undercover FBI agent. Had he been successful, authorities said he planned to hide the grenades inside the mall's garbage bins and set them off on the Friday preceding Christmas.
A few days later, a security guard patrolling the 879,000-square-foot Fairview Mall in Toronto found three handguns, a machine gun, drugs and balaclavas inside a locker meant to store customers' belongings. The mall's owner, Cadillac Fairview Corp., is reviewing videotapes made by security cameras to track down the weapons' owner.
And on Dec. 11, a suicidal teen drove a car through the entrance of the General Growth Properties-owned Altamonte Mall in Altamonte Springs, Fla., plowing through the concourse and falling to the mall's lowest level. The planters in front of the mall's entrance were not sturdy enough to stop the car.
All these incidents underscore how important it is for mall owners to invest in security. Government officials insist Shareef never posed a real threat, with the FBI tracking his every movement since September (the would-be terrorist unwittingly confessed his plan to someone who was working for the U.S. government). But it's impossible to stop everyone who is intent on carrying out a suicide attack, says Donald H. Greene, a former FBI agent and president of Strategic Security Concepts, Inc., a Skaneateles, N.Y.-based security consulting firm.
According to security experts, the majority of U.S. shopping centers are still not implementing adequate antiterrorism programs. “Most will be a reactive type of facility and will make improvements only after a serious disaster,” says Arik Arad, former head of Israel's shopping center security and executive vice president of Arotech, a New York-based security consulting firm.
CBL officials say that in addition to standard security procedures, they implement additional measures during high-traffic times, like the winter holidays. CBL was not notified about the threat to the mall until after Shareef had been arrested, according to Illinois law enforcement officials.
“For the most part, shopping center owners and managers have taken a very active role in seeing that they have a proper level of security to deter criminal activity,” says Greene. “But as it relates to the potential for terrorism, it's very difficult to ever say that you've got enough security.”
He believes that one of the owners' biggest fears — that extra security will scare off customers — is unfounded. “The soccer mom wants to see a security officer at the shopping center and wants him to see her,” he says.
Some experts also argue that there should be more of an emphasis on what the shoppers can do to protect themselves, at least where garden-variety crimes like muggings are concerned.
“Most mall owners are doing what they can within the resources that they have,” says Ira Somerson, a security expert with Blue Bell, Pa.-based Loss Management Consultants. “But if you go to the mall and don't take any responsibility for your safety, it's not the mall's fault.”
Weingarten Realty Investors, a REIT with 305 shopping centers in its portfolio, signed a national license agreement with CoStar Group, Inc., a provider of commercial real estate information services, for access to CoStar's Property Professional, the firm's recently launched retail real estate intelligence product, and CoStar COMPS Professional, which offers information on sales comparables.
The CoStar Group currently has access to information on 1.8 million commercial properties, encompassing all uses, including 370,000 retail properties totaling almost 10 billion square feet of space.
More Mall Media
Reactrix Media Network, a company responsible for brand-building media displays in public spaces, entered exclusive partnerships with General Growth Properties, Inc., the Mills Corp. and CBL & Associates Properties, Inc. to become the media provider at shopping centers operated by the three REITs. General Growth, Mills and CBL own 367 shopping centers between them. Reactrix already operates displays at more than 120 shopping centers and 160 locations overall. Reactrix joins the recent slew of new in-mall television efforts that also include Simon Property Group, Urban Retail Properties and Westfield Trust.
Westfield America is adding new parking amenities at several of its California properties to enhance customer experience. At Westfield Valley Fair in Santa Clara, Calif., shoppers can now call the center an hour before arriving to reserve a parking spot for a nominal fee. At the Westfield Topanga center in the Los Angeles area, “Pay on Foot” machines allow shoppers to park in a preferred area in exchange for cash or credit card payments. A shuttle service carrying passengers to and from the parking lot makes shopping more convenient at the Westfield Santa Anita in Arcadia, Calif. and Westfield Mission Valley in San Diego, Calif. And a “Valet Mate” feature at Westfield Century City and Westfield Santa Anita in Los Angeles allows customers to alert parking attendants to their arrival and departure times, making valet service more efficient.
Commercial real estate owners will soon be able to purchase military-grade surveillance technology to monitor their properties. That's because RemoteReality Corp., a Westborough, Mass.-based firm, plans to take the intelligent omni video system it has developed for the U.S. Department of Defense to the commercial market by the middle of 2007. The system offers continuous 360-degree surveillance and real-time viewing features and, in an open space format, can replace up to seven PTZ (pan/tilt/zoom) cameras. The product is being used to protect U.S. military ships and submarines engaged in the conflict in Iraq. When it enters the commercial arena, it will be priced in the same range as high-end PTZ cameras, which can cost upward of $2,000.