ICSC Forum on Vacant Big Boxes Coming to Greenville


Filling up ‘big (empty) boxes’
Shopping center group is promoting new uses for old retail buildings

March 30, 2008

By Angelia Davis

A forum in Greenville will help educate governmental employees, developers and retailers about state-sponsored incentives for reusing vacant big-box facilities and shopping centers.

“Greyfields to Goldfields: Reusing Empty ‘Big Box’ Stores,” a program sponsored by the International Council of Shopping Centers, will be held April 15 at Larkin’s on the River.

The forum will invite discussion on the Retail Facilities Revitalization Act, which state legislators approved in 2006 to “create a meaningful incentive for the renovation, improvements, and redevelopment of abandoned retail facility sites” in South Carolina.

The law offers the option of a 25 percent credit against real property taxes or a 10 percent state income tax credit.

“We want to talk about the legislation, we want to talk about the opportunity it presents, but we also want to hear from the audience about what maybe some of their challenges are in implementing the legislation,” said Cynthia Stewart, director of community relations for the ICSC.

“Maybe we could help them find some solutions or perhaps it’s something that needs to be revisited, but we want to have that conversation.”

Howard Duvall, executive director of the S.C. Municipal Association, said big-box vacancies are a hot topic with cities in every state. “They want to know what to do with the old abandoned buildings, be it a strip mall or empty retail space.”

Duvall said empty retail spaces become a nuisance problem particularly with growth. That can happen when a large retailer comes in, starts off small and then builds a larger facility nearby, leaving behind a space of perhaps 40,000 square feet, he said.

“Finding reuses for these is not easy,” he said. The ICSC forum, offered in partnership with the state Municipal Association and the International Economic Development Council, should “give the people who attend a good idea on how they can use the new Retail Facilities Revitalization Act to get these big boxes rehabbed and occupied again,” Duvall said.

Stewart said some cities have a vibrant retail environment and that makes it easier for them to get their spaces filled than some other communities.

Such may be the case for parts of the Upstate, which has seen a drop in big-box retail vacancy rates for single tenant and owner-occupied properties greater than 20,000 square feet.

The vacancy rate for the Greenville, Spartanburg, Anderson and Easley area was at 6.5 percent in fourth quarter 2007, down from 7.9 percent in fourth quarter 2006 and 10.1 percent in 2005, according to Grubb & Ellis/The Furman Co.

“In the past few years, we’ve seen some of those big boxes we expected to have to be scrapped becoming viable options for potential tenants that are willing to work and be flexible with the site,” said Brian Reed, research manager for The Furman Co.

Reed said retailers are not only moving into vacant big boxes, they’re rebranding them and making them fit their own retail. Among some of the best examples of this, he said, are the reuse of Lowe’s on Roper Mountain Road by the Jeff Lynch Appliance & TV Center and Peak Fitness’ use of the former Best Buy on Laurens Road.

“That’s a trend we may see going forward. Once it works in one location, they know that because of the consistent branding of the other location of that original retailer, they’ll be able to make that work in another location without a lot of additional work,” Reed said.

Retailers and developers occupying or filling empty spaces may be doing so without the benefit of the state’s offering of tax credits.

North Charleston is among the areas in the state where the retail revitalization act has been utilized. The bill, which requires a local government’s approval, has not yet been used by Greenville County, said Bob Mihalic, county spokesman.

Stewart said the legislation might not be widely known. And, she said, some public officials find the legislation’s square footage limitation “somewhat challenging.”

“You may have an empty grocery store that doesn’t meet the threshold of the bill, but for a small community to have that empty box in their town is a big deal,” she said.

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