Empty Spaces: City Looks to Fill Vacant Retail

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) -- We've all seen the shiny new shopping centers spring up over the last several years in Huntsville. But what about the aging commercial properties that continue to sit vacant?

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle recently commissioned a consulting firm to take an inventory count of the vacant commercial properties inside the city. While the city has no control over where a new business decides to locate inside city limits there are possible changes that could be made.

The consultant hired by the city of Huntsville pinpointed 21 "opportunity sites" across Huntsville that are ripe for new retail development. Several of those locations targeted currently are home to outdated and underused commercial buildings.

The Shopping Center Group said the old Coca-Cola bottling plant on Clinton Avenue and the former Toys"R"Us on University Drive are the two most attractive retail sites in the downtown area.

According to the company, north Huntsville's best retail tracts are the northeast corner of the Memorial Parkway-Sparkman Drive intersection and the corner of the Parkway and Bob Wade Lane; in south Huntsville, Country Club Apartments on Airport Road and Haysland Square shopping center.

Longtime Huntsville based commercial real estate broker Scott McLain with Coldwell Banker Commercial McLain Real Estate says there are factors that have significantly changed the commercial landscape over the years. McLain says some of the sites that are having a hard time finding tenants may not be suited for retail space any longer due to factors like traffic patterns that have changed.

*Use our interactive map below to click on the various properties to see where they are located.

North and South Parkway locations have been hard-hit in the years since the completion of the overpasses. McLain says that factor has forced a “redistribution” of business to other locations that still have easy access for customers.

Lacy Beasley, municipality consulting director at The Shopping Center Group says many retailers are back in expansion mode following several years of economic uncertainly.

But the prolonged recession and e-commerce took a heavy toll. Bookstores, video stores, mid-priced clothing and grocery stores, and office supply stories continue to struggle.

Beasley said Huntsville, as a regional employment center with high median income levels, is well-positioned to attract its fair share of new retail development.

South Huntsville - defined as Governors Drive south to Green Cove Road - has the highest median household income of the three study areas, $54,474. North Huntsville was next at $33,382 followed by downtown, $20,419.

Councilman Richard Showers has asked why Madison Square Mall is hurting. The mall will lose one of its anchor tenants next year when Belk moves to a new store at Bridge Street Town Centre.

Mayor Tommy Battle said the city is in regular contact with mall owner CBL & Associates Properties about a possible redevelopment plan. The 29-year-old mall has some "functional obsolescence" and may need to be rebuilt "from the ground up," said Battle.

"We're working with (CBL) to try to come up with a good plan that can be profitable for everyone involved," he said. "There are some very good possibilities sitting out there right now."

CBL officials would not comment on future plans but did say they are working with several potential new tenants.

Councilman Will Culver has said Huntsville may need to get "a little more creative" with incentive packages to convince retailers to take a chance on areas that are being bypassed currently.

(Our news partners at The Huntsville Times contributed background information for this report)

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