09/05/2012 | by
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Community involvement has taken on a whole new meaning for retail REIT Regency Centers Corp. (NYSE: REG). The company is using social media to get input from local customers on leasing one of its shopping centers.

Regency Centers is utilizing Popularise, an online crowdsourcing platform, to get advice on its Parkville Shopping Center in Baltimore. Although asking customers about their shopping preferences is not unusual, social media platforms and new technology such as the Popularise site are allowing more people to chime in.

"This is something completely new," said Alan Roth, Regency's senior vice president of operations for the Northeast region, in an interview with REIT.com. "The jury's still out, but we're going to plan to do it throughout the end of the year."

Roth said the Regency Centers introduced the Popularise (www.popularise.com/parkville) site to the public about two weeks ago.

The idea came about, according to Roth, as the company started construction in August on a $1.7 million renovation of the shopping center.  The 160,000-square-foot center is anchored by a new Giant grocery store after having gone through multiple anchor tenants in the past.

"We knew we had a tenant there for the long haul, and that gave us the ability to invest in the neighborhood center," said Roth, adding that the site's retail space is currently 93 percent leased.

A new exterior façade and architectural elements, upgraded signage, improved landscaping and parking lot enhancements are among the renovations being done on the site. Suggestions from local shoppers are gradually starting to come in, according to Roth. They have included the addition of eating establishments, such as a Panera Bread bakery-café.

"I think you can start to see the trend that restaurants in general seem to be a sector that the community wants to see more of," he said. "We've had some pretty interesting suggestions. A lot of the residents know what's missing in that community."

Roth said the company is spreading the word about Popularize, where people can also vote on other residents' suggestions, though storefront signage on the Parkville property, fliers and the shopping center's Facebook page.

Roth said Regency would continue evaluating its use of the software through the end of 2012.

"As time goes on we'll get a real good sense on whether or not the feedback is working," he said.