New Life: Turning Retail Stores Into Apartments

With the rise of ecommerce and consumer behaviors shifting toward a shop-from-home preference, traditional malls are struggling to maintain a presence in many parts of the United States.

In Ohio, a shopping mall boom in the 1970s and 1980s led to land development that created dozens of retail centerpieces rising quickly in urban and suburban areas. Anchored by major outlets such as J.C. Penny, Higbee’s, Sears and Macy’s, these malls drew fashion, entertainment and food options for entire communities.

In the decades since, though, large retailers have cut back or gone out of business completely, leading to mall closures and sites becoming abandoned. Randall Park Mall in Cleveland, Akron’s Rolling Acres and Canton Centre are just three examples of once dominant Northeast Ohio sites sitting dormant in what used to be thriving economic areas.

The Future of Abandoned Malls

Some developers have turned to non-traditional options for repurposing abandoned malls, offering everything from go karting to party centers to American Ninja-type attractions. Business offices and megachurches have set up inside former abandoned malls. Even warehousing has found a home in the wide open spaces.

A growing investment for abandoned malls in Ohio is housing. One Business Insider report estimates there are 700,000 apartments waiting to be created out of available real estate that once housed various Kaybee Toys, County Seats and Camelot Music stores.

Mall redevelopment is fast creating modern mixed-use properties with 53 percent of formerly abandoned sites including some sort of housing alongside revived retail. By easily adapting the sprawling, flat land typically found at malls, residential units can provide a steady traffic flow for stores and restaurants as well as steady income for the property owner.

Mall Redevelopment and Commercial Permitting

As investors move toward this trend, they are finding cities amenable to revitalizing old properties. The Lorain County Port Authority in Elyria, Ohio, recently agreed to contribute $4 million toward turning the former Midway Mall into a health, wellness and industrial park that may also include housing plans in the future.

By including the local government authority, businesses find an easier time with zoning law requirements for the new residential housing options, taking advantage of built-in amenities.

Generally, this type of transitional also requires a series of building permits since commercial and residential areas bring different structural requirements. This can include:

  • Water
  • Electrical
  • Entry/exit
  • Environmental
  • Occupancy
  • Mechanical/HVAC
  • And more

The American Rescue Plan, signed into law by President Biden in 2021, set aside $65 billion for cities and towns to turn abandoned properties into housing. Funding allocation already has included former mall sites.

Once you have a plan, community buy-in and government support, don’t allow the permitting process to slow you down. This is a lucrative investment opportunity that benefits from momentum.

With offices in 48 states and parts of Canada, Express Permits has the experience you are looking for in a commercial permit expeditor. Call us at (877) 898-9988, email us at with any questions or fill out our contact form to get the ball rolling.

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