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Empty big-box retail stores a growing problem (or opportunity) for suburban Detroit

Reprinted from

Empty big-box retail stores a growing problem (or opportunity) for suburban Detroit

Empty retail stores are on the rise in some cities. So are creative solutions to filling them. Wochit

For clues to what may happen to all those empty big-box stores and ailing shopping centers in suburban Detroit where people once swarmed, look to the shopping district around Westland’s namesake mall.

When retailers such as Value City, Circuit City, Service Merchandise and Macy’s at Westland Shopping Center closed, they left behind large and vacant store buildings, a type of retail space that has gotten challenging to fill amid the explosive growth of online shopping and consumers’ changing shopping habits.

A few of these shuttered stores were eventually refilled with new stores. Others were transformed to house businesses that aren’t retail. Some still sit vacant, and one big box was torn down.

While Westland has seen a particular abundance of large store closings, retail and development, experts say that suburbs across the region have become over-saturated with stores as more shopping moves online and traditional retailers downsize.

There is general agreement that southeast Michigan now has more empty big-box and midsize box stores than retail tenants to fill the space.

“There’s going to continue to be closures, without a doubt, because we’re over-stored,” said Frank Monaghan, president of Monaghan & Company, a commercial retail brokerage. “There are a lot of areas in the Detroit area where I don’t see retail occupying these buildings ever again.”

Struggling retailers like Kmart, Sears and JC Penney — all known for big stores — have been closing dozens or even hundreds of locations a year. And there is no indication this will stop. That means more Michigan cities will be dealing with empty retail boxes and their negative effects on nearby shopping centers.

“It’s not only in Michigan, it’s nationwide,” said Ron Goldstone, senior vice president at NAI Farbman, the Southfield-based real estate firm.

Read the full article here.

As department stores exit, mall makeovers begin

Reprinted from The Chicago Tribune

mall-makeover-redevelopment“Everybody’s going to take a step back and re-evaluate how these spaces should be used,” says Alden Loury, director of research and evaluation for the Chicago-based Metropolitan Planning Council, which has examined the financial and social impact that mall retail vacancies have on mostly black communities.

Illinois has about 60 major malls, the majority in the Chicago area, and seven outlet malls that collectively house over 6,000 stores, according to, which tracks the industry. However, a significant number probably won’t survive the seismic retail store shake-up that’s underway.

Nationally, an estimated 300 malls — about a third of the total number — are expected to close over the next 10 years, according to industry research. That’s a conservative estimate that likely will accelerate as digital buying increases and inflicts greater pain on the bottom lines of bricks-and-mortar retailers, experts add.

It’s no huge surprise that malls catering to upscale shoppers in more well-heeled communities have a better chance of surviving the loss of a major tenant or shakeout. If a mall can replace a Macy’s with a Von Maur, a high-end department store, it’s a manageable adjustment.

Moreover, retail mall developers are trying to re-energize these open spaces by luring more restaurants, gyms or entertainment venues. For instance, since 2011 the locally based General Growth Properties has invested nearly $1.5 billion nationwide to freshen up 91 vacant or near-vacant department stores and mall spaces.

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Fall Of The Mall? How Mergers And Millennials Are Changing An American Icon

Reprinted from

In Dearborn, Michigan, Lord & Taylor has been tailored for Ford.

The Fairlane Town Center in suburban Detroit is retrofitting the former department store space and several other vacancies to accommodate offices for Ford Motor F +1.32% Co. The automaker will move 2,100 workers to the mall as it converts 240,000 square feet of former retail space into a product-planning center.

If it sounds unconventional, that’s the point. “Most major malls are overbuilt, meaning they can’t support the square footage they have allocated to retail,” retail analyst Jeff Green toldMichigan Live for a story about the project. “Which is why they’re starting to look at nonretail uses being brought on the mall site.”

True enough, Fairlane is one of many malls across the country signing on non-traditional, high-traffic tenants as mall vacancies rise. Retail mergers and consolidations have resulted in fewer traditional department store anchor options. And younger consumers, accustomed to round-the-clock digital stimulation, are more likely to find the standard mall, with its cavernous walkways and recurring terrain of familiar shop windows, boring.

Fairlane is one of many malls across the country signing on non-traditional, high-traffic tenants. Photo credit: Fairlane Town Center

Roughly 200 U.S. malls are at risk of shuttering in the coming several years, according to Green Street Advisors. The analytics firm also estimates retailers will need to close about 800 locations, or a fifth of total mall anchor spaces, in order to achieve sales productivity of the mid-2000s.

That’s a lot of wide-open retail space. The risk for mall operators is falling for seemingly sexy new tenants that may not have the staying power of experienced retailers that better understand their market bases. Experienced retailers such as Apple AAPL -0.67%, which has installed glass staircases and Edwardian decor to complement the locales of its many locations. Or custom menswear chain Alton Lane, which serves cocktails and conversation to better understand its customers.

Which leads to the question: If today’s major mall can serve as a planning center for a major automobile manufacturer, what will the mall of tomorrow hold? One hint: To survive, it must serve the shopper’s desire to connect and preserve the shared, relationship-based shopping experiences people long for.

Read the full article here .

For Charleston, vacant buildings present big challenges

Reprinted from Charleston Gazette-Mail

Charleston property maintenance inspectors Ron Coon and Cheryl Gaynor discuss upkeep issues outside a Hunt Avenue home that’s been vacant for years. Because the deceased owner didn’t name an heir to the property, the Building Commission doesn’t have the authority to demolish it, Coon said.

Charleston property maintenance
inspector Ron Coon discusses the
demolition of the former Capital Paging
building on Kanawha Boulevard. The
historic building had been vacant for
several years and was occupied by
vagrants at the time the fire was set. The
fire is being treated as an arson, though
no arrests have been made.

Crews work to salvage any scrap metal that can be recycled from a demolished home on Burlew Avenue. The house collapsed over the winter, but the Building Commission couldn’t raze the structure until it got consent from the owner. If derelict properties were a disease, much of Charleston would be quarantined.

Charleston’s Building Commission is finally enforcing an ordinance, passed by City Council in 2014, which addresses the vacant buildings peppered throughout the city.

The law requires owners of empty structures to register them with the Commission. The office has since compiled a database of nearly 500 properties around the city.

Vacant building registries are catching on in the Mountain State as a way cities can keep tabs on unoccupied buildings before they fall victim to vandalism, vagrancy and arson.

But the Charleston Building Commission still faces numerous problems in applying the law.

From deceased owners to demolition restrictions and fickle tax-sale investors, it’s unclear whether the vacant structures ordinance has the teeth to make a long-term impact.

A common scene

On a muggy April afternoon, Ron Coon, an inspector with the Building Commission, drives through neighborhoods with the most abandoned homes in the city.

The majority of shuttered properties are residential and lie in wards 1 through 4.

“The worst parts aren’t in the flats — they’re in the hills,” he says.

Coon stops his car in front of an empty home in the 1000 block of Hunt Avenue in Ward 3.

Weeds and thistles choke the front yard where a weather-worn post sits without a mailbox. Vines wind up the front steps to a trash-scattered porch.

The front door and windows are covered with plywood. Someone hastily spray-painted the house number onto its exterior.

But the home’s foundation, Coon says, is solid.

The owner died a couple of years ago and didn’t leave the home to any heirs.

“Eventually, the county will sell it for taxes,” he says.

“Looking at the outside, it’s probably a rehabable structure right now. In another half-dozen years, it probably won’t be.”

The story is all too familiar for the Building Commission.

When a homeowner dies and doesn’t name any heirs to their property, the commission is powerless — and the ordinance is futile.

The objective

When a building remains vacant after one year on the registry, the commission charges the owner a $250 fee.

The fine increases by $250 for each year the structure stays on the registry. If the owner’s balance reaches $1,000, the commission may file a lien on the property.

Since November, the city collector’s office has received $4,750, or 19 payments, from more than 250 fines it sent to property owners.

The system is meant to encourage owners of blighted properties to sell, demolish or renovate them, Building Commissioner Tony Harmon said.

“We’re trying to get it to where the public can access the list. There’s a good possibility that someone could find a property they’re interested in,” he said.

From 2006 to 2015, the building commission demolished 463 residences and 109 commercial structures.

With the registry now in place, Harmon hopes to see up to 100 buildings removed from the list annually.

The Mayor’s Office of Economic and Community Development allots funds to the Building Commission for demolitions, but Harmon must ask for additional money each year.

A recent budget amendment added $20,000 more to the demolition fund for a total of $210,000 assigned this year, said Brian King, the office’s director.

Several exemptions exist under the ordinance, such as a building that’s being actively marketed, is government owned or is at least 15 percent occupied.

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What to Do With Birmingham’s Surplus Schools?

Reprinted WBHM 90.3 FM

Michael Calvert from the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation climbs the steps in front of the old Powell School. He inserts a key into the lock and removes a rusty chain from the door. Vacant for almost 15 years, Powell feels frozen in time. Calvert takes a look around. “So this is the building,” he says.

“We can step into one of these classrooms and you’ll get a notion of the appearance.” The walls are cracked and peeling, lined with old murals and bulletin boards. The rooms are covered in debris, leftover from a fire in 2011 that destroyed much of the roof and upper floors.

Vacant schools like Powell are a common sight throughout Birmingham. The buildings symbolize decades of population decline and budget cuts. Now, as the city center grows, many hope these large structures will be revitalized.

The Powell School in 1908.

Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation

The Powell School in 1908.

Blighted History

Powell was Birmingham’s first and oldest public school, built in 1888. It is located on the Northside of downtown, overlooking the recently built Park Place Condominiums. Calvert says the building is an important part of the city’s history.

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Commercial Asset Preservation, LLC. Expands Services to Canada

CAP serves occupied and vacant commercial retail, office, industrial, warehouse and institutional buildings

Salt Lake City, UT, USA, May 16, 2016 – Commercial Asset Preservation, LLC (“CAP”), a US nationwide provider of maintenance, repair, day porter and inspection services expands service into Canada. CAP provides its services at occupied, partially occupied and vacant commercial real estate, CAP is headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Since 2009, CAP’s independent contractor network, comprised of commercial general contractors and licensed trade professionals, has been strategically located throughout the entire United States. Now CAP is bringing its maintenance, repair, day porter and inspection service offerings into the Canadian market using locally based Canadian contractors.

“We’re very excited to take our services north,” comments Marc Insul, President and COO of CAP. “Our clients have been asking about Canada. We developed a similar network of independent contractors that are experts in commercial real estate maintenance and are familiar with local property rules and regulations. Our Utah-based service center will continue to provide coordination and management for all clients in both the United States and Canada. With the addition of Canada, we are now North America’s premier commercial general contractor.”

For more information, visit or contact

About Commercial Asset Preservation, LLC

Commercial Asset Preservation, LLC, (“CAP”) is a service provider established in 2009 to manage a national network of independent contractors offering property inspection, day porter, repair, maintenance, and preservation services to holders of abandoned and nearly vacant retail, office, warehouse, industrial and institutional (altogether “commercial”) real estate. CAP has since evolved into a full scale commercial facilities maintenance and inspection service provider handling both occupied and vacant properties.

Tree Project Could Restore Chicago Old Wilson School Site

Reprinted from Battle Creek Enquirer- Part of the USA Today Network

Years after the closure and ultimate demolition of Wilson Academy, a Chicago-based startup’s idea could put the vacant property back to use.

Fresh Coast Capital’s plan is to plant more than two acres at the site of the former school with rows of hybrid poplar trees. Part of the property is owned by the city of Battle Creek, which entered in a management agreement with the company after the City Commission unanimously approved it Dec. 15.

The rest is owned by Battle Creek Public Schools. Fresh Coast Capital has spoken with district officials, who will present the project to the Board of Education this month for a potential vote.

“We have a large land mass in our geographic area,” Battle Creek Planning Manager Christine Zuzga said last month. “We’re going to be faced with challenges in trying to reuse other types of property. There’s a lot of investments in demolitions of blighted properties, but then we want to be able to find a reuse of those.”

Five years after the trees are planted, half of them will be harvested and used for biofuel, according to a city staff memo. The rest will be cut down to sell about 10 years later, when they reach up to 60 feet in height. Both are ways Fresh Coast Capital makes a return on its investment.

Then, the trees can be regrown and kept as a permanent green space, or the property can be used in another way.

But it’s more than a farm, with the trees growing in a park-like setting and without a fenced-in area so it can be enjoyed by the community. It’s also a project that provides health benefits and environmental perks, said April Mendez, Fresh Coast Capital’s co-founder and director of community partnerships.

Read the full story here

Vacant industrial spaces are reborn to support a new age of small-scale manufacturing

Reprinted from Center for Community Progress. 

There’s a myth surrounding post-industrial economies, Dan Kinkead, acting executive director of Detroit Future City, shares in conversation about the rebirth of small-scale manufacturing in his hometown of Detroit. View-of-Downtown-Detroit-from-Ponyride1“The myth is that we need to build new economies around technology and innovation completely divorced from industry,” said Kinkead. “But industry is actually evolving and is now highly innovative today.” It’s just on a different scale.

Detroit Denim workshop at Ponyride (Credit: MacQ)

Small outfits working on everything from 3D printing to furniture design are forming in cities like Detroit, and they are looking for space to work. Luckily, in most Legacy Cities, there is a surfeit of vacant industrial space that is proving ripe for rebirth as shared spaces for small-scale manufacturing, where entrepreneurs can rent space in common. Small-scale manufacturing is an umbrella term used for all small businesses producing tangible goods (You can find a full glossary of related terms here).

Dan describes it as “a circular moment where we’re reutilizing things that we already have. Cradle to cradle.” Many of the large-scale industries that once powered the rapid growth of Legacy City economies are now long gone. The entrepreneurial spirit that fueled that growth has not perished, though, and it is that ethos that is the driving force behind this new rise of manufacturing.

To read the entire article, click here. 

Guilderland approves vacant property crackdown

Reprinted from


The town cracked down on vacant properties Tuesday night by unanimously adopting an ordinance that requires otimesunionwners of vacant structures to register them, keep them neat and put up a $5,000 bond that the town can tap into if the property needs to be cleaned up.

“These properties don’t generally become public health issues, but they become unsightly and rundown,” said Town Supervisor Ken Runion.

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Detroit program pairs new businesses with vacant spaces

Reprinted from Detroit Free Press

Detroit free press 2A new, five-year program to pair up entrepreneurs and property owners looking to repopulate Detroit with small businesses kicked off today with pledges of $2 million a year in grants to encourage redevelopment of vacant commercial space across the city.

The Motor City Match program will award $500,000 in grants quarterly to building owners and small-business startups, a key part of Mayor Mike Duggan’s 2013 campaign pledge to foster growth and jobs in neighborhood storefronts long vacant amid years of business flight from Detroit.

To read the entire article, click here