Coping With Vacant Big Boxes

<p>To deal with the problem of vacant big-box stores that have proliferated across the country, one Milwaukee suburb is levying a fee on developers to help pay for demolition. Other cities are exploring similar options.</p>
May 19, 2008, 12pm PDT | Christian Madera | @cpmadera
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"Like many communities across the country, Wauwatosa has taken steps to protect itself against so-called ghost boxes, the hulking remains of what are often big box stores left vacant when retailers downsize or relocate.

Many see measures such as Wauwatosa's, which assesses developers a fee that can be used for demolition if needed, as counterproductive to attracting new business.

But recent announcements of store closings by Home Depot and Linens 'n Things - and concerns that more could follow - have some economic development officials reconsidering."

"Wauwatosa's provision, adopted as part of its big-box ordinance in 2005, requires developers of buildings 50,000 square feet and larger to set aside 20 cents a square foot in the city's land conservation fund - about $28,000 in Lowe's case - which can be tapped to raze the building if it sits empty for more than a year.

"This is exactly the climate we were anticipating when we adopted this," Wauwatosa Community Development Director Nancy Welch said shortly after Home Depot announced this month that it would close 15 stores, including three in Wisconsin.

Widely criticized in the development community at the time, Wauwatosa's provision has been touted by the American Planning Association as one of the innovative ways communities can protect themselves if a retailer departs.

Others include higher architectural standards that make buildings easier to reuse; requiring developers to take out demolition bonds; and banning clauses in leases that prohibit the owner of a building, once vacated, from renting it to a retailer's competitor."

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Published on Saturday, May 17, 2008 in Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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