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Malls once full of shoppers, now home to students

November 10, 2017
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There are communities that have too much retail space. But, prime real estate can be converted, demolished and/or rezoned for new developments. About 22 percent of malls that JLL studied have taken this approach.

So, why buy a mall and create something totally different? Well, because good real estate locations are always a good investment.

Highland Mall, the first suburban shopping mall in Austin, Texas opened in 1971 and officially closed its doors nearly 45 years later in 2015. Austin Community College (ACC) purchased Highland Mall with ambitious plans to reshape the property and revitalize the community by converting it into state-of-the art center for innovative learning, training excellence, and community engagement.

The property is located in the heart of Central Texas, on the I‐35 corridor with easy access from several highways and it has ample parking, and proximity to public transit – making it the perfect spot for ACC’s new campus. Construction began spring 2013 on the Highland Campus, which is located in the former JC Penney – and the campus opened for classes in fall 2014. Construction is still underway for Phase II, which will include innovative programs in high-demand career fields like information technology, hospitality, STEM and a business and fashion incubator.

While Highland Mall was a perfect fit for a new school, there are several cases where malls have been transformed into call centers or for medical use.

  • At the West Oaks Mall in Orlando, Florida a Xerox call center took 144,000 square feet of former Sears space and Bed Bath & Beyond will reformat 35,000 square feet into its own call center. Call centers in particular are attracted to mall space because of the large floor plans that require little retrofitting to suit the needs of the large number of employees and the ample parking on site.
  • In Tulsa, Oklahoma, four call centers went into a 1 m.s.f. center: Alorica, Coca-Cola, Enterprise Rent-a-car, and Capital One. The call centers now dominate the mall and only a handful of food vendors and traditional retail storefronts remain.
  • At the Fairlane Town Center in Dearborn, Michigan just outside of Detroit, Ford is relocating its research and development department with 2,100 employees to a former Lord & Taylor and additional vacant inline retail spaces.
  • In 2014, Richland Mall in Mansfield, Ohio, converted a former F&R Lazarus & Company department store into an Avita medical center. In 2016 Avita announced further expansion after it found initial success with the move. The mall saw an 8.0 to 10.0 percent increase in mall traffic according to Avita quoted in the Mansfield News Journal.

But, not every mall can be saved and about 6% of the malls we studied were completely razed in order to make way for new ground up construction.

  • In Union City, Georgia the former Shannon Mall was demolished and the site was used for a combination of a distribution facility and a movie studio.
  • The Six Flags Mall in Arlington, Virgina, was demolished in 2016 and will be rebuilt as the Arlington Logistics Center and leased to General Motors.
  • The Randall Park Mall in North Randall, Ohio, will soon see an industrial fulfillment
    center in the place of the demolished mall which will take advantage of the sizable acreage of the property.

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