MIAMI-Shopping center owners are bracing for Hurricane Frances to come ashore Friday, the second major hurricane to hit Florida in the last month. The storm could hit the state’s east coast as early as Saturday morning, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The storm comes after last month’s Hurricane Charley, which did most of its damage in the Fort Myers and Orlando metropolitan areas.

Equity One Inc., a grocery-anchored center-owner based in North Miami Beach, is tracking the hurricane’s movements and will make final emergency plans for its 80 centers in the state today, Howard Spizner, the company’s CFO, tells “We’re prepared,” he says. “We have procedures and planning done well in advance.”

Equity One estimated damages at its centers from Charley were around $250,000. The company’s Winn-Dixie-anchored Charlotte Square, in Port Charlotte, sustained the heaviest damages, to its roof and air conditioning systems.

Property managers are now preparing to cover windows with weatherproof shutters, Spizner adds.

Equity One also has contingency plans in place for its headquarters, about 15,000 sf of space on top of its Publix-anchored Shops at Skylake strip center. If the storm seriously damages the office, the company may temporarily run operations out of Atlanta or another regional Florida office, Spizner says.

But he says the company is optimistic overall: “We expect to be up and running normally by Tuesday morning no matter where [the center] is.”

Inland Retail Real Estate Trust, one of three shopping center portfolios owned by the Oak Brook, IL-based Inland Group of Cos., also suffered about $250,000 in damages from Charley, estimates JoAnn Arementa, Inland’s vice president of property management. The grounds of its Cypress Trace center in Fort Myers lost about 50 trees.

The trust has 72 centers in Florida and is taking special care to have plans in place in Orlando, where some are predicting Frances could hit hard. “We’re already starting to contact some people and line up our contractors,” she says. “It’s not what you do to the buildings beforehand, it’s the practices you have in place for afterward.”

Staff members at centers in Alabama and the Carolinas are also on alert in case the storm veers further North or Northwest, Arementa says. “We’re preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.”

Meanwhile, further north, in Richmond, VA, property owners are recovering from serious flooding there in the wake of tropical storm Gaston Monday. About 20 square blocks of the city’s Downtown suffered flooding, according to local media reports.

On the west side of town Forest City Enterprises’ open-air Short Pump Town Center, a 1.2-million-sf development which opened last year, was not damaged, though the property had a lot of standing water and its two decorative ponds nearly became a problem during the storm, says Paige Peak, the center’s director of marketing. “We had a lot of wind, we had a lot of rain, but nothing really forced us to close,” she adds.

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