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Best Idea of the Week: Retrofitting ASAP

On the whole, the retail industry (except, tellingly, consignment shops) has suffered sales declines in the past several quarters and top-tier chain stores have shut down shops. I have been speculating what will happen to all of the vacant storefronts. In Business Facilities’ April 2009 Top Executive Interview, I posed a related question to Colliers’ International’s Ross Moore.

I asked Mr. Moore, “How have the closures of many retail super-stores affected their communities? Do you foresee these commercial properties being repurposed or remaining vacant?”

Moore replied, “Empty stores are never a good thing. Vacant stores don’t help neighboring retailers and become a target for vandalism and usually fall into some form of disrepair.

Leasing up large stores is never easy, and never more difficult than in the current environment. Many will have to be retrofitted for alternative use, while some may sit empty until the economy recovers. In a worst-case scenario the building will be demolished and the site redeveloped. In every up-cycle a small percentage of retail space gets developed where it probably shouldn’t. This cycle was no different.”

On the heels of this recent interview, it was just announced today that Silver City, NM has been allocated a $2-million grant from the federal Economic Development Administration.

The funding will be used to renovate a former Wal-mart building that is owned by Grant County and re-make it into a community events center and a site for housing small businesses.

Fred Mondragon, secretary of Economic Development for the state, said the funding is critical for the area, which has been hit hard by the recession and recent mine closures.

Mondragon and his staff have worked with the community to increase economic growth in the area. They will assist officials in Silver City with finalizing the grant paperwork.

Toni Balzano, spokeswoman for the Economic Development Department, said normally, the Economic Development Administration gives about $2 million in grants total to this region every year. But since it received money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or ARRA, it has more funds to give out.

I think it’s a great sign that some communities are using federal grant money to repurpose store space for positive, community-related interactions and smaller business development as soon as possible. Best Idea of the Week! Don’t let rehabbing shopaholics turn your once bustling strip malls into galleries for graffiti (unless sponsored by your local arts council).

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