Feeling they weren't getting enough face-to-face time with clients and contacts, a handful of young retail real estate pros in New York have launched a new nonprofit organization, the Retail Network, with the aim of bringing together local pros up to four times a year in strictly networking events.

Joshua Weinkranz, vice president of the Northeast region for New Hyde Park-based Kimco Realty Group, Stu Fagen, director of acquisitions with New York City-based Alrose Group and Jayson Siano, first vice president of retail services for CB Richard Ellis in Long Island, are the brain trust behind the group. The three put their heads and their Rolodexes together and formed the venture, which held its first event in Garden City, Long Island, in mid-October at the Garden City Hotel, drawing 350 professionals including developers, brokers, accountants, attorneys and other service providers to the retail real estate industry throughout the region.

“There are a lot of events, but most have small networking opportunities around roundtable discussions, symposiums or speeches,” says Fagen. “We all wanted more networking.” Weinkranz adds, “We all believe the network equals your net worth. The more people you know, the more opportunity you have to communicate, the more opportunity you have to create deals. That's why the networking is the core focus.”

The group had been hoping for a turnout of 250 and so were very pleased with the response they got.

And although the three started working on pulling the group together in the spring of 2007, before the economy took a turn for the worse, they see the current economic climate making it that much more important for industry pros to get together.

“Owners, brokers, servicers, etc. are all looking for ways to generate additional business,” Weinkranz says. “Any opportunity you have to generate business or meet people or network is welcomed in this environment, even more now than a year ago…. Quickly, it's turned into a necessity.”

The three have assembled a board of directors for the network with representatives covering a range of disciplines including retailers, owners, brokers, engineers, accountants, attorneys and service providers. The board and the three founders worked to plan the initial event, launch a Web site for the network and are now working on future events.

The group aims to hold four events a year in the New York metropolitan area to fill the gap between major ICSC events such as the RECon show in May and the New York Deal Making in December. It is looking to hold its second event in March somewhere in Queens. After that, it plans to do another event in June.

However, the founders stress that they are not trying to compete with ICSC. “It's a world-class trade organization and it has its purpose,” Siano says. “We're not competing. We're filling a necessary void for something that doesn't exist. There's a lot of networking in Manhattan. But, there isn't a lot for outside Manhattan.”

The Retail Network also has a charity component. The group charges members a $150 annual fee. Non-members also have to pay fees to attend individual events. The group plans to take proceeds at the end of the year and spread them among a handful of local charities, although the members said they are not sure yet how much they will end up donating.

Mall School

Simon Property Groups' Youth Foundation has added five more alternative school sites, including three shopping centers, to offer at-risk students a high school diploma. The schools, called Education Resources Centers (ERCs), now total 24 and include new locations at Simon-owned Granite Run Mall in Media, Pa.; Richmond Town Square in Richmond Heights, Ohio; and Edinburg Premium Outlets in Edinburgh, Ind. For the last decade, Simon has provided classroom space at its shopping centers, which are a popular hangout for teens. In partnerships with local school districts ERCs provide students with accredited classroom training as well as career and life skills.

In the Cards

Bayer Properties is offering private-label gift cards at three of its shopping centers provided by StoreFinancial. Summit Louisville, Summit Sierra and Front Range Village were expected to have begun gift card programs by Thanksgiving. StoreFinancial was to provide prepaid cards for only Front Range Village in Ft. Collins, Colo., but expanded the program to include all three open-air centers when the gift card provider for Summit Louisville and Summit Sierra could not support them. StoreFinancial provides gift card programs to more than 360 shopping centers.

Regency's Green Goal

Regency Centers was selected by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to pilot energy-saving technologies through its Net Zero Energy Commercial Building Initiative. The company's goal is to help shape sustainability practices and define cost-effective solutions to accelerate the adoption of energy-efficient retail buildings. Regency was among 21 commercial real estate, finance and retail companies to team with the DOE to speed market adoption of current energy-saving technologies and produce buildings with significant and measurable energy savings. Also taking part in the initiative are national retailers and tenants at Regency Center's shopping centers including Target, Best Buy, JCPenney and Whole Foods Market. Regency's corporate initiative, greengenuity, includes a commitment to LEED certify 20 percent of development starts this year, 40 percent next year and 60 percent in 2010.

Strong Response

The National Retail Federation has partnered with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and ICSC to establish emergency response protocol for retailers in the event of a shooting. It offers basic guidelines as to how employees can analyze, react and respond to a serious threat, as part of a coordinated emergency management plan with law enforcement to protect themselves and customers if the situation arises. The guide, distributed in late October to executives from across the country attending NRF's Loss Prevention Summit in Dallas, is designed to educate retailers of all sizes about shootings, which have become a serious threat in recent years. NRF's www.lpinformation.com Web site also offers links to the DHS Web site for help.