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Coronavirus Florida: Publix offers free rent to tenants in shopping centers it owns

Jeff Ostrowski

Publix, Florida’s dominant grocer and a major property owner, says it’s offering rent relief to tenants that operate in its shopping centers and have been closed by the coronavirus pandemic.

The relief package includes waiving rent for two months, as well as waiving payments for common area maintenance fees and taxes, regardless of the tenant’s access to other relief or assistance, Publix said.

“As a company that started as a small business 90 years ago, Publix wants to help businesses renting from us survive the economic impact of these unexpected closures,” Publix spokeswoman Maria Brous said in a statement.

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Lakeland-based Publix has invested heavily in real estate in recent years. The grocer owned, rather than leased, 425 of its stores as of the end of 2019, according to the company’s latest annual report. Publix now owns the dirt under 34 percent of its stores.

In 2013, Publix owned just 196 of its stores, or 18 percent of its total.

In Palm Beach County in recent years, Publix has bought a number of shopping centers anchored by its own stores.

In a couple of examples, Publix paid $52.8 million for the Courtyard Shops on Wellington Trace, $18.7 million for the Sea Plum Town Center at 2525 Military Trail in Jupiter and $16.25 million for the Shoppes at Ibis in West Palm Beach.

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Those deals happened during an unprecedented boom. Now, though, retail tenants have been hammered. Gyms and bars have been ordered to close, while restaurants have shifted to carry-out only business.

Publix has never publicly explained its real estate strategy, but its shopping spree seemed to aim to take advantage of the considerable value Publix creates at its heavily trafficked stores.

Publix stepped up its real estate purchases after the Great Recession, so its new strategy has yet to be tested during a downturn.

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This story originally published to palmbeachpost.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.