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To Prevent Blight, Local Governments Are Buying Dead Malls

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In the bifurcation of the retail world since the recession, winning malls attract shoppers and tenants, while losing malls attract neither and risk becoming derelict. 

Raleigh Springs Mall
Raleigh Springs Mall, Memphis, before it was razed.

When private investors have lost interest redeveloping such derelict retail, in a few cases local governments have stepped in to acquire the properties and possibly find another use, the Wall Street Journal reports

One example is the Upper Valley Mall in Springfield, Ohio. The Clark County Land Reutilization Corp., the county's land bank, acquired the property this year for about $3M. The mall was once the center of retail in Clark County, but after anchors such as JC Penney and Macy's closed, the property became a shadow of its former self.

"The Upper Valley Mall is a prime property for economic development,” Clark County Commissioner Melanie Flax Wilt told the Springfield News-Sun. "... we hope we can kick-start a new vision for the area.”

The land bank is now in talks with developers about the possibility of a mixed-use redevelopment on the site of the mall, the WSJ reports.

Another approach is to replace the property all together. Last year, the city of Memphis bought the Raleigh Springs Mall and now is redeveloping the site to include municipal facilities: a library branch, a Memphis Police Department precinct/traffic command center and an outdoor skate park arena.

"It will be a pastoral setting, with fountains and a path around the lake where members of the community can walk as they used to around the mall," Mary Claire Borys, project manager of the city's Division of Housing and Community Development, told the Memphis Business Journal.

Other municipalities interested in redeveloping dead or dying malls are facing obstacles, the WSJ reports. Most former retail buildings are ill-suited for other uses, and sometimes buying the properties can be a complex task, since different owners often hold stakes in different parts of the property.