Closed sign STOCK

POLK COUNTY – During the “Weathering the Storm” webinar hosted April 16 by SVN Saunders Ralston Dantzler, Managing Partner Gary Ralston explained that — according to data he has collected — around half of all retail tenants and around a third of all residential tenants have sought rent relief after President Donald J. Trump signed the CARES Act into law.

Ralston went on to say that the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been disastrous to restaurant owners and the tourism industry in Florida, where 124 million visitors spent $94 billion last year.

Some retail business owners are struggling while others thrive. Dollar General stocks are at all-time highs. Businesses in strip malls and traditional malls are mostly closed.

“Nobody in the malls is paying rent without some objection,” Ralston said.

Both Ralston and Dr. Mahmoud Al-Hadidi — the president of Stockbridge Enterprises, Inc., which owns the Eagle Ridge Mall in Lake Wales — were concerned about long-term financial repercussions associated with the pandemic.

“We are all in this together,” Al-Hadidi said. “Longterm, those who do good business will survive. Unfortunately, that is the name of the game. This is the worst crisis I have ever seen before.”

Eagle Ridge Mall

Eagle Ridge Mall in Lake Wales is owned by Stockbridge Enterprises Inc., a group of doctors collectively investing for retirement. Al-Hadidi is president of the corporation and a professor at Michigan State University.

During the April 16 webinar, Ralston said that no mall tenants are currently paying rent without some objection.

“It's absolutely true,” Al-Hadidi said.

Al-Hadidi explained that Stockbridge Enterprises Inc. owns several malls in Florida, Georgia and Michigan, and that every tenant in each of their malls is seeking rent relief for the next two or three months.

Al-Hadidi said he is encouraging his retail tenants to apply for small business assistance programs through the federal government.

Some larger businesses can afford to provide some rent relief. On March 27, Publix staff announced two months of rent relief for tenants in Publix-owned shopping centers closed during the pandemic. Publix currently operates 1,243 stores across the Southeast.

Experiencing the outbreak first-hand in Michigan

Several officials are saying the peak COVID-19 threat in Florida is early May but in other parts of the country, the trends are different. At initial contact, Al-Hadidi had recently finished treating patients diagnosed with COVID-19 in a suburb of Detroit.

After answering a few questions, Al-Hadidi asked the Sun to share some of his experience.

“The threat is real,” Al- Hadidi said.

Al-Hadidi explained that Detroit area residents are at or just past peak threat. He said the death rate has been high and 10 residents passed in his hospital over the past few days. He urged readers to keep social distance and stay at home as much as possible until officials say otherwise.

Contact Charles A. Baker III at