Empty big boxes answer the call

Friday, February 10, 2012, Vol. 36, No. 6
By Hollie Deese

What do you do with big-box space when it stops being a big box store?

As large-scale retail spots go dark or move into smaller spaces, landlords are left with immense caverns to fill, complete with lots of parking. And they have been getting creative, looking for adaptive reuses that will please good tenants. One popular option is renting it out as a worship space, which at least a few times a week has an intense need for parking.

“Unless you build your own structure, retail is the best option,” says Greg Coleman, a broker with Southeast Venture, specializing in office and retail. “Particularly churches in a growth mode and don’t currently have a fixed structure that they own and have raised capital for. So it provides them a good growth vehicle.

“Take Spring Hill for example,” he adds. “You have two or three large churches that are located in what used to be retail centers.”

Other landlords have been successful in turning those spots into liquidation centers, like the Essex Bargain Hunt store that has set up shop in the old Circuit City in Rivergate. Other spaces have transformed into gyms or athletic facilities. And landlords are willing to do the work to make it happen, even splitting up the space to rent to more than one tenant.

“Landlords have learned to identify unique uses and are investing what is needed to divide the spaces into easier-to-lease locations,” Coleman says. “And that will continue to evolve over time.”