In October of last year, Kimco announced the Illumi-Nation program, our biggest sustainability program to date and the latest rollout under our Best-in-Class umbrella. Through Illumi-Nation, we had committed $9 million in 2015 to upgrade the lighting in 100 of our Tier 1 properties by year end, and the program will carry us through 2019.

One year later, the Illumi-Nation program is a success, with even more improvements on the way.

Kimco developed Illumi-Nation primarily to benefit our tenants and customers. At the end of the day, the results produce a better lit property that feels safer and looks more aesthetically pleasing. The program also happens to reduce expenses and energy use – great side effects.

Before and after Illumi-Nation at Kimco’s Fire Mountain Center in Oceanside, California

Safety first

The main motivator for this lighting retrofit project was safety, particularly at night, which differentiates Kimco from other companies undertaking these types of projects. Retailers have conducted case studies exploring how nighttime lighting can affect foot traffic to their stores. In many cases, after installing lighting upgrades similar to our efforts, sales increased dramatically. Other studies have shown that a brightly lit property promotes a safer environment. As we critically tour our properties, we want to not only increase our tenants’ nighttime foot traffic, but make sure there is an established standard illumination level for our sites to give Kimco, our tenants, and our customers comfort. In addition to being brighter, safety is enhanced due to the improved uniformity of the lighting and increased illumination of vertical surfaces, like signage, building facades, or landscaping.

Optimizing energy spend

What makes LEDs so much better? In the most basic terms – LED produces a better quality light, therefore appearing brighter; it costs less to operate; and the technology allows you to focus light only in the direction or areas where you need it, therefore reducing light pollution. This is a huge benefit for shopping centers that border residential communities and in states that enforce dark sky compliance.

At some properties, our parking lot electricity expenses have been reduced by as much as 40 percent! It’s important to note, however, that this kind of savings will vary by site, depending on the number of fixtures that we have to install in order to meet our minimum illumination standards. As stated above, cost savings is a great benefit of LED, but our main focus is to improve the overall quality and consistency of lighting. And because the electricity is billed back to the tenant, their expenses go down as well. It’s a win-win for all.

LED lights illuminate Melrose Village Plaza in Vista, California

Illumi-Nation progress so far

The lighting standards we’ve set for all of our sites is based on a minimum illumination level. This is easier to achieve with LED technology’s ability to create a uniform and consistent light level across the entire property. To do this, we have partnered with engineers and lighting consultants to complete a study of each property and its existing conditions. The results from the initial site assessment are then compared to the new illumination standards. From there, Kimco determines a scope of work to meet our lighting standards for each property.

A report showing positive lighting performance post-retrofit at Marigold Center in San Luis Obispo, California

This is a unique way to approach a lighting program, as it goes beyond simply replacing fixture for fixture. The Illumi-Nation program assesses each individual site and designs the lighting system based on the actual need to meet a stated standard on how all of our properties should perform.

Since the technology is relatively new, retail tenants are still catching up on establishing their own standards for LED lights. It’s pretty common for grocery stores and other national retailers to require a minimum foot-candle level for the parking lot. But this requirement has been historically based on either metal halide or high-pressure sodium technology. There isn’t an existing conversion factor for LED lights. We are educating our national tenants on the conversion issue, and how they can get better lighting, and an improved nighttime appearance with a lower foot-candle level from an LED fixture. LED technology can be designed to produce less measured light, but appear to the human eye as brighter.

These brighter lights make the property more noticeable from the street, increasing foot traffic. Additionally, the lights themselves are particularly durable. Barring extraordinary events like hurricanes or other types of infrastructure damage, there’s really no maintenance expense to these fixtures, which have warranties for the next 10 years. This longer-than-normal warranty is a value-add for the large amount of LED lights purchased through the program (3,224 parking lot fixtures installed by year end to be exact). As a result of the sheer volume of hardware we’re buying, one of our largest manufacturers opened a dedicated production line to build our lights.

By year end we will wrap up our largest project: Mesa Riverview in Phoenix, Arizona. Kimco will complete about 100 Illumi-Nation projects in 2015; approximately 100 projects in 2016; and then finish the majority of Tier 1 properties in the following three years. The results are going to pay off for years to come. Tenants’ electrical bills will be reduced. We can minimize operating expenses and/or redeploy those dollars into other property improvements.

What’s next

As this program progresses, we’re expanding our focus beyond parking lot lighting and working with engineers and consultants to look at accent lighting. Our goal is to highlight different parts of the building, landscaping, and other features of a property to make the shopping center “pop.” For example, at our 280 Metro shopping center in Colma, California, we enhanced the walkway lighting, entry way lighting, and other accent lighting.

The Illumi-Nation program dovetails into another one of our early sustainability efforts: the Gateway Building Control System. Our iPad-powered smart lighting control system lets us control a property’s lighting on the go and is installed in almost all of our Tier 1 properties. Gateway also features an automated alarm that will notify property managers of any power outages and other electrical events that property managers may need to address.

We are currently evaluating a new type of LED fixture that has an integrated camera and motion sensor. At any time, our property managers can monitor the property through their iPads to see what’s happening without being on location. The system can also be programmed as an active crime deterrent at night. For example, say we program the LED fixtures to dim to 50 percent illumination between the hours of 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. If the system picks up movement in the parking lot during that time frame, it can do a number of things. It can immediately bring the lights to 100 percent burn level. It can actually release an audible announcement through the light fixture to notify the trespasser that they’re being video recorded, and the motion sensor can even turn on a video recording system to record all activity for a certain period of time. This technology is going to be a game changer with its utility as an active crime deterrent, while also making our property managers more informed on sites that they manage remotely.

Overall, Kimco is doing its best to measure the impact of the Illumi-Nation program on tenant sales. We will be looking at year-over-year tenant sales reports to get an accurate picture on how this program is positively impacting tenants. So far, tenants have been giving us amazing feedback, saying that the property looks and feels brighter and safer, comforting retail employees charged with closing their stores.

2015 was a strong start for the Illumi-Nation program and it will only get better. As we continue to update the lights in our Tier 1 properties, Kimco will continue to explore how to best maximize the use of this new technology through accent lighting, increased security measures, cameras, and off-site management through the Gateway Controls Program.