Q&A with Jeffrey Fischer, VP of Leasing at Federal Realty Investment Trust

Q: Can you tell me a bit about yourself and Federal Realty?

Fischer: I am a proud Philadelphia native and Pennsylvania State University alumni. During the past 20+ years working in the real estate leasing industry, I have been fortunate to have leased a number of high profile projects, including the retail campus for the University of Pennsylvania, Suburban Square, the Cherry Hill Mall redevelopment, as well as having completed deals with some of the strongest brands in the industry, i.e.Tesla, Nike, Urban Outfitters, Apple, etc. In my current role with Federal Realty, I oversee the leasing for the Philadelphia and New Jersey portfolio, which consists of 14 shopping centers, comprising approximately4 million square feet.

Federal Realty is a national leader in real estate investment trust (REIT) developing sustainable and high-quality retail-based properties for destination experiences. We have developed a variety of successful projects in major coastal markets and redevelopments are underway at three highly anticipated projects in the Philadelphia area.

Q: Talk to me about why Federal Realty is investing in the Greater Philadelphia region, and why now?

Fischer: Actually, we have been reinvesting in the Philadelphia and New Jersey region and methodically transforming our portfolio over the last decade or so. As part of our ongoing investment and commitment to growth in The Greater Philadelphia area and New Jersey regions, we continue to enhance the merchandising, amenities and aesthetics to a largely necessity-based portfolio.

Since the onset of the pandemic, we have been reinventing our real estate and reshaping our redevelopments so they can prosper in our new normal. To date, we have redeveloped the Northeast Shopping Center, Brick Plaza, Troy Hills Shopping Center, while Andorra Shopping Center, Lawrence Park Shopping Center, Bala Cynwyd Shopping Center and Willow Grove Shopping Center are now underway.

Q: How will the upcoming project developments help grow and activate local communities?

Fischer: We have a unique opportunity to reshape the merchandising and relevancy of these properties, so they speak to what the communities currently want and need. Our upcoming redevelopment projects at Lawrence Park, Bala Cynwyd, and Willow Grove will display how our smart growth and continued reinvestment benefits the communities in which they are located. This community focused approach helps activate local areas through the creation of new jobs, establishing new gathering spots and creating a real sense of place.

Q: Walk us through your approach to working with tenants. How do you differentiate yourselves from other development firms?

Fischer: We don’t just fill spaces, nor do we always lease to the highest bidder. Rather, we try to find unique concepts to help differentiate the center’s offerings. Understanding the culture and specific needs of local neighborhoods is key to merchandising, especially with merchandising being more of an art than a science. I try to curate a tenant mix that sets both the tenant and landlord up for success.

We believe in being closer to the real estate, closer to our tenants and closer to the communities in which we operate; that is a big factor in our business plan.

Q: A lot of retail was hit hard during the pandemic. How did Federal Realty handle this?

Fischer: The retail industry did suffer early in the pandemic. To help our tenants and communities, we came together as a team and identified new and supportive strategies for each property and for each tenant. We connected with each tenant in our portfolio to listen and understand their needs and worked to find meaningful solutions. New initiatives such as outdoor dining spaces and curbside pickup were strategies many of our tenants utilized, and still do, to evolve and improve sales. Additionally,we are led by an exceptional executive team, whose disciplined approach and strong balance sheet was built to weather storms like these.

Q: What are some trends and topics we can expect to see more of in 2022?

Fischer: I believe necessity-based properties will continue to prosper. Shopping centers with anchors that thrive and the renaissance of the grocery stores, ultimately help drive traffic to the centers that benefit the community. Trends like BOPUS (Buy Online, Pick Up In-Store) and grab and go have become vital during the pandemic. Convenience is key!

As some tenants wrestle with balancing an online presence and brick and mortar, fundamentally sound real estate that appeals to a large and diverse audience, should win the day. To that end, most of our tenants have exceeded their pre-pandemic sales level and we are looking forward to another year of sustainable growth.