Taking the long, long view

What do you do with the empties? That's the question that arose when Wal-Mart decided to move out of Reno's Northtowne Marketplace at 2863 Northtowne Lane.

It leaves behind a big, empty box - 125,000 square feet of nothing but space.

"We heard last week," said Jay Blacker, director of leasing for Hawkins & Smith, Northtowne Marketplace owner and developer.

But he has little control over what Wal- Mart does with its space, as the retailer owned its parcel in the center.

Wal-Mart plans to close that location and open a supercenter on Second Street in Reno and another in Lemmon Valley.

The empty left behind is a good location for many types of businesses, says Eric Berger, spokesperson for Wal-Mart."And Wal- Mart has a full-time real estate department that would market that building." This is not the first time an anchor has left a Hawkins & Smith development.

The Idaho-based firm owns more than 2.5 million square feet of commercial space and has developed more than 5.5 million square feet.

In this case,WinCo Foods remains a major tenant in the center, says Blacker.He expects to see a slight decrease in traffic."I won't say it'll be business as usual," he says.

"It's a big loss, but WinCo is still here.

Customers will continue to come." Blacker has talked with a broker from Wal-Mart, he adds, and the retailer has plans to sell the parcel or replace the tenant.

On his end, Blacker says he'd like to see a soft-goods store go into the empty shell.His firm might even be in a position to put a potential tenant in touch with Wal-Mart; he gets calls enquiring about space in Reno.

Also, he adds,"We might look at buying it." Empties are not unusual in big box retailing.

Carson City has bookends of empty shells, says Joe McCarthy, Carson City Economic Development and Redevelopment Manager.

Wal-Mart vacated a space in Southgate Shopping Center and moved to Douglas County back in 2002.

That left behind "a sea of empty parking spaces," says McCarthy.

"It has taken its toll on us," says Shelly Aldean, president of Glenbrook Company, owner of the center.

She has about 16,000 square feet of empty retail space in the center, she says.

The remaining anchor store, J.C.

Penney, is doing well, she adds.

But it can operate as a standalone.

The former Wal-Mart site was purchased by Max Baer,who is refusing to sell the 119,000 square feet, holding out for approval to build a Beverly Hillbillies - themed casino.

"It's a nightmarish situation," says Aldean.

The inline stores still in the center are suffering."People like to shop where a center is prospering," she says, "with half the center vacant, it tends to cast a pall over the center."

At the other end of town, Kmart left behind an empty box in 2002.

"We understood the store to be profitable," says McCarthy.

Nevertheless, it closed as Kmart downsized its operations nationwide.

And the principle effect of its closure? The population at that end of town was under-served, says McCarthy.

But with the new Wal-Mart coming in on the north end of town, that should change.


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