Brookfield Asset Management Inc., which made a large bet on malls back in 2018, plans to invest US$5 billion to help struggling retailers.

The Toronto-based firm has launched a “retail revitalization” program that will focus on taking minority stakes in retail businesses that have been hit hard by the pandemic, according to a statement on Thursday.

Brookfield is doubling down on its contrarian bets on malls. It made an initial investment in GGP Inc. after the mall owner filed for bankruptcy protection and acquired the full company in 2018 for about US$15 billion.

Retailers, already under pressure from e-commerce, have been hit especially hard in recent weeks by the closing of hundreds of stores and stay-at-home orders that have kept consumers locked down and pushed even more consumers online.

Bankruptcies are mounting in the retail industry, and the collapse of brick-and-mortar stores is an existential threat to mall owners, who rely on these companies to pay rent and draw shoppers.

Brookfield raised eyebrows when it bought GGP, taking control of about 125 properties in the U.S. with plans to add apartments. The firm called it part of a “counter-cyclical” strategy.

Since then, retail struggles have gotten worse. While higher-end mall owners had navigated the retail apocalypse far than others in the sector, pressure has been mounting for consolidation across the industry.

Simon Property Group Inc. announced a deal to acquire rival Taubman Centers Inc. for US$3.6 billion in February. That same month, a consortium including Simon and Brookfield Property Partners LP agreed to buy bankrupt retailer Forever 21 Inc.

It was a rare foray into retail for the new owners. Forever 21 filed for bankruptcy in September after struggling with large, expensive locations and losses in some international markets, while suffering from the same online competition that has forced U.S. retailers to close thousands of stores in recent years.

Simon’s shares have dropped more than 60 per cent this year, while Taubman’s stock has been trading below the proposed deal price for weeks. Brookfield has slipped about 13 per cent in 2020.