Shopping malls face stiff competition as more Americans shop online. But malls are discovering different ways to use their real estate, including finding tenants or buyers to host data centers or charter schools.
Online holiday sales in November and December are expected to grow 8 to 11 percent over last holiday season to as much as $105 billion, Shop.org said. Meanwhile, the average mall vacancy rate is 5.8 percent, according to research firm CoStar Group, stuck at the same level as in the third quarter of 2009.
Zayo Group, a networking company based in Boulder, Colorado, runs servers in a data center at Park Central Mall in Phoenix. The mall's tenants are mostly offices, not retailers, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Sage International of Boise opened a charter school in an abandoned mall in Idaho in August.
The school re-purposed 31,000 square feet, including 23 classrooms, this year, and will expand into the remaining 54,000 square feet over the next two school years. The campus will host 1,040 K-12 students.
The school demolished a long-vacant drive-thru bank that is now the new 1.5-acre fenced play field and basketball court.
"We never had a real play space for kids before that," Keith Donahue, Sage International director of development, told ABC News.
Where a former mall theater and optometrist stood are now classrooms and other school spaces.
Before the mall was remodeled into a school, curious parents and their children walked through the shopping center in a school "open house" and viewed renderings of the plans.
“Turning this marginal property in Boise’s urban core into a thriving space for public school children, as opposed to building new on the outskirts of town, is something our community takes great pride in,” Donahue said.
Remnants of the mall can be found throughout the school, such as the tall, vaulted skylit ceilings, wide halls and expansive parking.