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Capital & Regional: parking space offers retail a new future

UK shopping centre REIT Capital & Regional is partnering with Miami-based Reef Technology to transform underutilised elements of two of its shopping centres and their car parks to mixed-use neighbourhood hubs that provide “locally-curated” goods, services and experiences.

Neighbourhood kitchens, urban farms that use hydroponic technology, last mile logistics and e-bikes could all be part of the mix. The deal initially covers the company’s Luton and Wood Green centres but centres at Walthamstow and Ilford are also under discussion.

Capital & Regional said that the new hubs will, “enhance the central role of the shopping centres in their local communities by satisfying the needs of the on-demand economy and creating new employment opportunities.”

“While we fully understand the important role our centres continue to play as physical destinations, we are also acutely aware of the need to innovate and embrace the benefits of technology to ensure they fulfil their potential to play a vital role in the growing digitalisation of local economies – which has accelerated in the last year,” Capital & Regional chief executive Lawrence Hutchings said. “Our centres are perfectly placed, given their town-centre location, to provide a range of supply chain, processing, final mile and micro logistics and storage services that bring new jobs, services and experiences to their local area to enhance the lives of all those who live and work there.” 

Exploiting potential as neighbourhood hubs

As it does in North America, REEF will exploit the centres’ proximity and potential as neighbourhood hubs to provide a range of tech-enabled goods and services to the surrounding areas. These activities could include providing neighbourhood kitchens – which it brands NBHRD Kitchens – that provide “full-scale culinary curation, operations and delivery-only services”.

REEF said that its kitchens are used to support multiple local and international restaurant offerings, and can be used to introduce new brands to a locality, or may help them make their UK debut.

REEF will announce a number of new restaurant partners that will be joining its delivery-only platform, it said.

Another potential solution is urban farms utilising vertical hydroponic agricultural technology which are able to satisfy demand from businesses and consumers for products that are locally grown and therefore more environmentally friendly, being less reliant on long supply chains

Last mile logistics, storage and fulfilment as well as digital lockers are another possibility and would use REEF’s couriers and its e-scooter cargo fleet. The firm said that its micro-distribution infrastructure empowers delivery partners to adopt eco-friendly methods of transport for last-mile fulfilment.

Car park’s potential for ‘smart transit’ facilities

Car park space could also be used for smart transit and eco-friendly commuting facilities. These would include e-bikes and e-scooter rental stations, electric vehicle charging, and digitalised car park management.

“Our leading proximity platform will enable Capital & Regional to plug into our ecosystem of alternative use case partnerships and drive its assets recovery as businesses evolve post-pandemic,” said REEF managing director Europe Barak Zimerman.

“REEF will drive commercial value and better serve the local neighbourhoods and communities with our last mile logistics and mobility solutions,” he added.

REEF Technology already has a significant presence in the United States and Canada, and operates in more than 4,500 locations in over 200 cities.

In November 2020, REEF confirmed a $700 million growth equity fund from a group of investors including Mubadala Investment Company and the SoftBank Vision Fund, and a $300 million joint infrastructure vehicle to acquire strategic real estate assets via its newly established Neighbourhood Property Group. The combined $1 billion will enable expansion in the US and globally.