Shopping centre owners have removed some food court seating and are jointly talking about their ability to operate only partially-open malls for essential businesses.
Campbell Barbour, chairman of the NZ Council of Retail Property which represents some of the country's largest mall owners, said owners of some of the country's largest malls were having ongoing discussions about many issues including seating and social distancing.
But what happens to the hundreds of millions of dollars in rent when non-essential shops shut from tomorrow night remains up in the air.
"Health and operations are more important than commercial right now," Barbour said. "Rent is being talked about but it's not a priority. We've got big public places and we've got to manage these very well."
Executives from multi-billion dollar businesses Kiwi Property, Stride Property, Oyster, Colliers Management, Scentre Group, AMP, New Zealand Retail Property and Tinline Property were talking regularly about major issues, Barbour said.
The Australian newspaper has reported shopping centre owners "ripping seats out of dining courts as they rapidly refit their malls for an almost overnight shift to food delivery."
Their restaurants are fighting for survival as fearful diners stay away at a time when landlords are also battling to stabilise their businesses, as sharemarket investors abandon much of the once safe property sector, The Australian reported.
Barbour said: "Some [New Zealand malls] have removed seats from food courts. Some have closed food courts early. Some have changed the ratio of seating. We are all agreed on a re-ordering of seating to make sure we're socially distancing".
Barbour was reluctant to name malls which had removed the seats but said many had taken various measures for health and safety because people came first.
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"As we understand it, we're able to operate up until tomorrow night," he said of existing arrangements with mall opening hours.
Malls which the owners manage include the giant Sylvia Park, Westgate, Milford, Westfields at Newmarket, Albany and Christchurch's Riccarton.
When the Covid-19 Alert Level 4 becomes operational at 11.59 on Wednesday night, he said owners than had to consider how to operate in a partially open phase for the next four weeks.
"So [some] shops will be shut but anchors at either end of the centres like supermarkets will stay open and these are very big places to keep partially operational. What are the health and safety requirements? What are the logistical challenges of getting people through the centres to say supermarkets or pharmacies?"
Barbour named aspects which managers and owners had been discussing in the last few days as "hours of operation, cleaning, security, management, safety, hygiene," and efficient management of electricity.
"These are the types of operational issues in big places. They're designed to be all-go," he said of the unusual circumstances which owners and managers now face.
Asked if centre management offices would even continue, he said core staff would be needed for the safe operation of centres "and to meet our obligations".