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'Dead' shopping malls are finding new life in communities

Many of us spent a good chunk of our teen years in shopping malls. They're where we hung out with friends, had our first jobs, saw a movie and grabbed an affordable meal. Now, with the rise of online retailers, they seem to be going the way of the dinosaurs -- as are many of the big retail chains that made their homes there.

So what's happening with these huge, empty structures and their massive parking lots? Developers are using them for myriad other purposes -- many of which fill the same need for community that shopping malls once did. For example:

  • The large department stores that anchored the malls are becoming gyms, churches and medical centers and libraries.
  • The food courts where families, mall employees and teens used to stop for lunch are attracting more upscale restaurants.
  • The spacious atriums filled with natural sunlight are becoming art galleries and day care centers and even car showrooms and concert spaces. Some are used as meeting, party and gathering spaces.
  • The spaces where smaller retailers once lined the malls have been turned into micro-apartments, libraries, art galleries, classrooms and even indoor farms.

The parking lots that surround the defunct malls that seemed to go on forever (especially when you forgot where you parked) are being used for farmer's markets, converted into walking paths and becoming the site of multi-unit residential developments.

Many malls were built in locations that were convenient for people living in surrounding areas to get to by driving or using mass transit. Therefore, unless the area surrounding them has changed significantly, these spaces are still convenient to people in a community.

Not all malls are losing their retail focus. However, some are becoming more specialized. Some are becoming what one architecture professor calls "ethnic malls." They include stores, restaurants and other services targeted at specific demographic groups in the community.

The idea of large malls isn't completely a thing of the past. It's just changing. Destination malls (also known as "lifestyle centers" or "super-regional malls") are springing up or in the planning stages. The focus of these new mega-malls is more entertainment-driven, with roller coasters, go-carts, arcades, obstacle courses and even theme parks included.

Many Florida developers and business owners are seeking a spot in a shopping mall that's being brought back to life. They can benefit from the advice of an experienced Florida commercial real estate attorney.

Source: Business Insider, "Here's what could happen to America's hundreds of dead malls," Leanna Garfield, accessed May 04, 2018

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