- Series: The MIT Press
- Hardcover: 240 pages
- Publisher: The MIT Press (October 10, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0262033798
- ISBN-13: 978-0262033794
- Product Dimensions: 10 x 1.2 x 10 inches
- Shipping Weight: 3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 10 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,201,349 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Big Box Reuse (The MIT Press)
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Amazon Best of the Month, December 2008: From Kentucky to California, the construction of tens of thousands of big box stores over the past few decades has transformed the American landscape. What happens when one of these stores goes bust or moves to a super-sized retail center a few miles down the road? Right now communities across the country are confronted with the challenge of repurposing these enormous physical structures, their acres of parking lot, and the accompanying network of roadways. Intrepid artist and writer Julia Christensen traveled all over the United States to discover the surprising story of how some of them have creatively met that challenge. Big Box Reuse--an appropriately big, square book--describes in words, photographs, and building plans the reincarnation of 10 former retail behemoths into facilities ranging from an indoor raceway and a Spam museum to a health center, library, and charter school. In each case study, Christensen documents and reflects deeply on the big box transformation with respect to each locale's particular socio-economic, political, and cultural history. Big Box Reuse presents "outside the box" thinking on American culture and commerce, community activism, and savvy and sensible redesign of our built environment. --Lauren Nemroff
From Publishers Weekly
Since 1962, big-box stores of 20,000 to 28,000 square feet have dotted the American landscape, their bare-boned appearance, according to artist Christensen, promising bare-boned bargains. But after the box is vacated, sometimes after only a few years, a community is left with a decision about what to do with the structure. Christensen focuses on empty Wal-Mart and Kmart stores to discuss 10 imaginative and successful projects converting boxes into a library, a Head Start center and a senior resource center, among others. Charter schools have moved into empty big boxes, as have churches, for whom, Christensen says, the big box may be the revival tent of the twenty-first century. Christensen's stories can become repetitive, but the themes she draws from her investigations carry conviction and a sense of urgency. She argues that eventual reuse should be a part of a big box's original design, and that information on reuse should be disseminated so municipalities can make informed decisions. But she also questions whether we should want a future landscape of renovated big box stores: We are what we build, she says. 77 color photos. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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I thought some of the text drifted into unsupported political correctness, but that's not unusual with planners and dreamers. It comes with the gifts of their refreshing zeal to pursue new directions.
By way of background three factors have generated an abundance of empty "big boxes" across the land.
Perhaps the most prolific generator is Walmart. Few recall that they started with 30,000 SF stores in small communities in the south. Before long the 30,000 SF stores were abandoned in favor of 40,000 to 60,000 stores. Several decades and iterations later the 200,000 SF superstore became the model of choice.
At each evolution Walmart abandoned the smaller stores and left them with grim landlords or, where they were owned by Walmart, put on the market for sale. An interesting strategy of Walmart is that they do not speculate in old stores. Typically they put them on the market and then keep reducing the price until they sell.
Where Walmart vacates a store with with a continuing lease obligation they may leave the store vacant (they often put restrictions on replacement tenants) or work with the landlord to subsidize the sale or lease of the property as a way of eliminating their lease obligation.
Since Walmart started in the south, the vacant 30,000 boxes first appeared there. Aa a result a cottage industry was built by a limited number of real estate professionals who gained experience dealing with the properties and the opportunities they presented.
Some of Walmart's rapid growth came at the expense of other merchants who then failed or vacated their stores. The classic case would be a 40,000 SF market where Walmart opened a supercenter next door.
Finally the third major source of boxes has been the over expansion of big box centers and the failure of several large merchants. Adding to this is the growth of internet sales. The percentage of sales to the internet does not properly account for its impact on the brick and mortar merchant. The internet provides pricing information that substantially erodes the margins available to local merchants on those goods which are deliverable through the internet-homogenous, high value per weight and volume and non-perishable.
One thing that I noted with the book is that there are few alternative uses that are likely to have restored the value of the building to its original value when leased to a major user.
A leased Walmart building would likely sell for $150/ SF - $250/SF depending on the rent and land values in the area. Over the past year there have been a number of large vacant boxes, in good condition, selling in the $25-$40/SF range.
These properties can either be a great opportunity for a community or a continuing source of blight. To move from blight to opportunity usually requires both the community and the adjacent owners (where there are CC&R's) to allow unconventional uses.
As it is the book is a good resource and a great inspiration. I would like it a little more if some of the political correctness were scrubbed in favor of more detail on the economics.
With these reservations it is a very good book for developers, investors, architects, citizens and municipal officials.
Architect, FL AR 0002747
The textbook-sized book includes ten case studies across America where former big box stores – Walmarts and Kmarts – have been put to new use after the store left or closed.
WHAT I LIKED:
"I was drawn to the premise of the book as I have frequently seen large big box stores in Canada, anchoring malls and plazas, move out and languish empty for a number of years. Sometimes it is a short time and another retailer moves in. Sometimes it is a long time, and it looks like urban blight. Rarely have I seen much in the way of “good news” around these sites, and I was intrigued with the idea of a series of case studies where the stores aren’t just languishing empty, but have been put to reuse.
From a policy perspective, the first thing that jumped out at me was that the stores were not all empty because the store “failed”. While the Kmarts closed, most of the Walmarts moved to larger facilities…instead of trying to renovate an existing space (and losing revenue while it was being renovated), they built a whole new store, sometimes just across the road. Secondly, I liked some of the challenges and opportunities that go with the store’s design…they are primarily utilitarian empty boxes. Which means they can be anything you want them to be, except perhaps attractive (usually). Beyond these first two, some other issues that I liked was some of the restrictions the former store put on future use when selling the land (lease restrictions to prevent competition for instance); local ordinances that were hard-learned lessons about responsibilities of the owner when the boxes are being built with a view to future reuse (accessibility, divisibility of the interior space, extra doors, etc.) or eventual removal if it sits empty too long; the short-term reuse by other types of businesses (like an indoor racetrack) until the lease restrictions ease at 10 years and the subsequent eviction of those temporary tenants in favour of larger more profitable retailers; the use of some of the properties as “land banks” to use the land for SOMETHING while waiting until the value increases; the importance of time frame for assessing success as some of the reuses look great initially but weren’t sustainable; the importance of interior and exterior aesthetics to the new users and the public; the consideration of the location not just as a “building” but as tied to the infrastructure around it – utilities, parking, accessibility to good transportation routes, etc; and the potential for complicated types of real-estate deals in place to address if you want to reuse something – current lease holder, building owner, and a land owner.
I think my favorite chapter was one that looked at a reuse of a Walmart box by three seniors services organizations who co-located into one building, and the place was thriving. Equally, I saw potential in the reuse by a few Charter schools and a couple of other “startup” organizations who couldn’t afford to build their own building, at least not initially, but could afford to lease a space, get up and running, earn some revenue, save up, and then buy the building, while slowly expanding their use throughout the space. A library project took the “challenge” of being in a big box and turned it into a way to engage the community (a common challenge to face together, which built support for the project). Finally, there is a chapter on converting the box store into a church, and not just in one location, it has happened in lots of places."
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE:
I was a bit disappointed that the book only looks at Kmart and Walmart stores, as they all have a very specific type of footprint, which would in some ways limit their reuse. Multiple sizes of stores might have more interesting reuses. I was also disappointed with the lack of much other context – how does big box reuse compare to gentrification of factory districts, how do the issues that crop up with historic buildings compare with the issues of more modern box stores, how do they compare with issues when converting schools or churches to other uses? A couple of the chapters are throwaway chapters for me as they are not truly reuse. One looks at a courthouse that took over the space, but just razed the building and built something new; another only used the parking lot; and another just had other types of retailers in the space.
I received no compensation, not even a free copy, in exchange for this review. I am not personal friends with the author, nor do I follow her on social media.