The Big Three

by Katie Lee

Three crucial service considerations in a major renovation project.

By Bob Clarke

It’s not every day that a retail center undergoes a major transformation costing millions to billions of dollars. Any kind of renovation has inherent problems, and these are exaggerated when you consider everything involved in minimizing the impact on tenants and keeping their customers happy. If the center caters to high-end retailers and shoppers, the stakes go up dramatically.

Here are three crucial service considerations for this type of project:

1. Facility Engineering

It’s one thing to have fabulous architectural drawings and blueprints for a “dream” renovation. But what concerns have to be addressed? What if the center was built, say 60 years ago, and no “as-built” plans exist, let alone documentation of changes over the years? How do you deal with facility engineering considerations like:

• Plumbing and fire/sprinkler systems: Where are the existing connections with the city? What needs capping off and/or draining? Where are the new feeds and tie-ins going to be? Is there enough water pressure in all areas, and if not, where are tie-ins to the pumping system?  How/where will old valves be replaced?

• Electrical: What is the status/load capacity of the main electric distribution panels and where are they located? What updates are needed for all the new lighting and equipment? How will energy efficiency be addressed?

• HVAC: How do you keep existing areas operating while others are being demolished? Tenants and shoppers need comfortable, clean air at all times. How can energy savings be generated? What new equipment is needed and where is it going to be located? How/when/where will the crane drops take place?


The above questions need to be answered during the design phase in order to plan for the most economical and efficient solutions. Here’s where your engineering partner’s expertise is critical. It can save you countless dollars and time. If the same engineering services company has been on-site for many years, they will have documented the changes and drawn plans for existing systems based on their discoveries/experience. In addition, the firm’s employees on-site for many years will retain invaluable history. Without historical knowledge and a thorough plan, costly mistakes are inevitable. For example, upgrades to new sprinkler systems alone can take months of planning. But even if your partner has little history with your project, their expertise during the design phase is vital.


Working hand-in-hand with a trusted partner, the plans made during the design phase can come to fruition with a minimum of frustration and delay. Communication (at least weekly meetings), documentation and flexibility are key. There will be changes and adjustments, but experts with their hands on the pulse will be able to quickly adapt, keeping the project and budget as close as possible to goals.

As an added complication, the customer experience needs to remain unscathed. For example, what if an existing office tower is being demolished to make room for retail expansion, but the bank branch on the ground floor has to remain occupied? Keeping the HVAC and other systems going might require that special equipment be brought in. In addition, the plumbing tie-off/tie-in has to be carefully planned and executed.

Special Events

The engineers and facility services staff on-site can also handle special events and holiday decorating for your retail center during renovation. The shopping experience is enhanced by these activities: As they say, “the show must go on” even during construction. Think Black Friday, concerts, fashion shows, billions of Christmas lights. The setup and location of event stages, sound systems, cables for props and lighting, food/specialty carts, etc.…all must go smoothly despite the renovation.

2. Parking

There’s nothing more frustrating to a shopper than not finding a ready valet or a good parking space. Well, there is something more frustrating: having your car damaged by paint, wet cement, falling metal, or other construction messes. How do you keep these problems to a minimum? Where will the valets be temporarily relocated? How do you communicate changes, especially if happening weekly or even daily?

Again, it helps to have a trusted partner who has already been on-site. One mall had changed parking operators about a year before the renovation began, so they had already upgraded systems and replaced old equipment. Parking had been fine-tuned and automated. It was operating more efficiently and generating better revenue. With 3 million cars per year in the parking decks and three valet stations, this was no small consideration. What’s more, the parking company — being a division of the same company providing engineering services — was able to work with the engineers to offer money-saving input into the design of the new parking system, which doubled the existing parking capacity.

It’s also important for parking providers to establish relationships with the construction companies and stay in constant communication with building management to keep parkers happy and safe. Other details that should be handled by a parking partner include: 

• Relocating existing tenants to a nearby garage. 

• Enforcing designated parking areas for mall employees and scheduling key card exchanges.

• Designating oversized construction-vehicle parking.

• Driving the garage several times per day to identify dead ends created by construction.

• Directing traffic to areas that are hard to find due to garage closures/barricades.

• Creating signage on a daily basis for vehicle path of travel.

• Coordinating additional striping and garage cleaning due to the heavy-dust environment.

• Helping minimize damage to parked cars and handling complaints when something does happen.

3. Janitorial

Cleanliness is a minimum requirement for any retail center, but even more important for a high-end one. How do you keep public spaces pristine, especially when they’re open 24/7, especially during construction? Sparkling restrooms, clean and safe food courts, inviting sidewalks and seating areas, tidy trashcans… everyone expects these amenities and more. But handling cleaning tasks correctly is more than a broom sweeping the sidewalk. An expert janitorial company will use highly specialized equipment, environmentally preferable chemicals and effective processes. Well-trained employees will be neat and uniformed, also serving as friendly ambassadors to guests.

Again, it helps if your janitorial company has been on-site well before renovation begins. The advantages are many, because the janitorial site managers and employees are:

• already a seamless part of the shopping center team, melding with the culture and helping to consistently support the brand image,

• familiar with the property’s challenges, and

• involved from the beginning of the renovation with the coming changes.

The janitorial partner should be able to keep tight quality control of cleaning and maintenance throughout the expansion process, helping to ensure that shoppers have a stellar experience. If the partner is part of the same company that provides parking and engineering services, it’s even easier to coordinate and save costs.


Engineering, parking and janitorial specialists aren’t just service providers. They become part of the shopping center’s team as consultants and stakeholders. If these experts in three disciplines come from one company, the teamwork becomes even stronger — they will share a work ethic and philosophy, which should also meld with the retail center owner’s.

In this new model for integrated facility services, the vendor self-performs most services rather than using subcontractors. Thus, the relationship between facility services provider and retailer becomes stronger: There is far less turnover in support personnel working on-site, which means a stronger knowledge bank and more consistent meeting of expectations. By sharing the same vision and looking at a milestone renovation holistically, the facility services provider and the retail center can work together toward a successful grand reopening.




• Expanding size, sometimes more than doubling the square footage with many new shops restaurants and public areas.

• Expanding parking capacity, often dramatically.

• Adding or planning for adjacent residential.

• Tying into public transportation.


— Bob Clarke is senior vice president, sales of ABM. Clarke brings more than 25 years of experience in the facilities services industry. He has overseen and managed ABM’s national and regional sales teams and organic growth strategy over the last several years.

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