Blue Light Special at Kmart

Posted on April 20, 2018

Morning Buzz by Andy Kuhn (LinkedIn) (Twitter)

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TL;DR: There are empty K-Marts in towns all over the U.S. and there appears to be no means of getting them filled or even demolished because of minimal local budgets. Creative solutions for how to maximize the space present one of the best development opportunities of the last 10-15 years.

If you live just south of somewhere significant, you probably have a mildly functioning, possibly vacant, or completely abandoned K-Mart in the middle of your town.

Once the bastion of the “Blue Light Special”, this big box retailer saw the writing on the wall in the last half decade, and has shuttered stores across the country. Although, I must say that the KMart in Marietta, Ohio is operational, and possesses the single best parcel of land in the county.

Communities were ill-prepared for the shuttering of a 99,100 square foot facility in the heart of their retail district. In my travels across the country, I ask locals when their KMart went out of business, and take note of what has popped up, or hasn’t.

For economic developers this presents an interesting dilemma. Many of these facilities are the largest buildings in the city. Which begs the question, can’t you turn them into warehouses for another big box store? Unfortunately, in most cases, the answer is no. While it was built to house inventory in the rear of the store, ingress and egress of large trucks are an issue. The pickups and drop-offs of these facilities were time to allow for less traffic obstruction. Major shipping warehouses cannot operate efficiently without a continual input and output of trucks. So, quick fix A is unlikely.

So plan B……. turn the facility into a farmers market or indoor food truck rodeo space. Maybe a food hall? Love it! Great idea, so who wants to buy the building from the holding company? (crickets) The implication, in this scenario, is the city or county lead the project, purchase the property, and retro-fit the building to allow for this new awesomeness. Sadly, if you are in a community where KMarts are closing up shop, your city and county doesn’t have two dimes to rub together. As I mentioned earlier, these buildings, in many cases, is the largest building in town.

If you’re on your way back from Coachella, you could stop to purchase the KMart in Indio for a $9.3 million. If you’re racing through Longmont, Colorado, you could stop and purchase the next indoor food truck rodeo for $5.5 million.

I’ve seen an old KMarts selling for $880K, and I’ve seen another selling for $3 million. It all depends on the market. Communities witnessing their malls and big box retailers shutter face a huge redevelopment task. Now, I am not advocating for an exit fee, ala the Columbus Crew should they head to Austin Texas, but I am advocating for is some assistance in getting these properties turned over. For the hundreds of businesses who set up shop and benefited from a location near KMart, the same tides that helped float their boat could potentially drag them out to sea.

If you have an idea on how we can resuscitate these delapidating spaces, share here……..or if you are smart get in front of a capital group, pitch your idea, and make millions redeveloping spaces in towns like Putnam, Connecticut.  For further reading on this phenomenon, read Julia Christensen’s book called Big Box ReUse. The pictures and stories are worth your time, and simply finding out that the Spam Museum was once a local big box is worth the read.

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