Six Tips for Developing Relationships with Municipal Officials

by Katie Sloan

By Brad Oppenheimer

For companies that own or operate shopping centers, developing and maintaining relationships with local municipal officials can be extremely beneficial to your business.

At Halpern Enterprises, we find that investing in property must extend further than the real estate. It also requires investing time into establishing relationships with local officials.

As an example, we often face challenges when we are helping tenants open a new business, and have found that strong personal relationships with professionals within the local government may help facilitate the process.

This comes into play both in large cities and in smaller communities. In smaller cities, there are fewer obstacles to connecting with key officials. In a town like Covington, Georgia, where government employees and Chamber of Commerce staff often work together and live within the same close-knit community, making connections may be much easier than in, say, the large and complicated network within the city of Atlanta.

Either way, it’s important to build these relationships. For retail real estate professionals looking to grow their network, here are six tips for doing this, compiled with the help of my Halpern colleague Jimmy Cushman:

  1. Start by getting to know one municipal official who can then introduce you to his or her colleagues. The key is to form the relationships before an issue comes up. You don’t want the first call to an official to be one where you need help right away. Odds are that the official will know the best opportunities to meet other key people – from chamber of commerce events to a go-to lunch spot in town.
  2. Look for ways to become a resource of information for municipal officials. This relationship should be a two-way street. When you meet an official, ask if you can be of help. Can you supply retail-related information when they need it? Or maybe you can serve as a sounding board for their ideas.  We have even gone so far as to help establish and chair the local business association to help strengthen the relationships between business and government leaders.
  3. As you build relationships, look for ways to help municipalities avoid decisions that could hurt your business. In one community where we own multiple properties, there was talk about instituting a two-week limit on any banner at commercial locations. We explained that leasing banners need to be up longer, and that filling up shopping centers with tenants is critical for the town’s economic future. So an exemption was put into the regulation for leasing banners.
  4. Find out what kinds of retailers the municipality would like to have as you work to attract new tenants for your retail centers. In Doraville, Georgia, the local officials let us know they would love to have a sports-related restaurant/bar. This was helpful information that resulted in us leasing to a Louisiana-themed restaurant called The Bayou Boil. Working to help the town accomplish its goals deepens the relationship.
  5. You have to get out of the office to make this happen. As an example, we make it a priority to attend local Chamber of Commerce and City Council meetings in communities where we own shopping centers. By building close relationships, we have helped get the word out about leasing opportunities at our centers while getting to know people who could be helpful to us in the future.
  6. Have a reason to call or email when you reach out to your municipal contacts. Everyone’s time is valuable. So instead of simply calling to “check in” with a contact, have some information to share or a certain topic to discuss. If the relationship is working for everyone involved, your contacts should look forward to hearing from you, knowing you are helping them do their jobs better.

– Brad Oppenheimer is a Property Manager for Halpern Enterprises, based in Atlanta. As part of the company’s property management team, he has experience with site identification and acquisition, as well as with tenant negotiations for planned and existing developments. 

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