As brick-and-mortar stores contend with e-commerce and once-stable malls begin to falter, many wonder what can be done with all of this legacy retail space. The KTGY Architecture + Planning concept, Re-Habit, would repurpose obsolete big-box stores into smaller retail spaces, housing, employment and support for homeless individuals.
“With big box stores such as Macy’s, JC Penney and Sears closing in record numbers, repurposing such vacant spaces becomes increasingly necessary,” said KTGY senior designer Marissa Kasdan. “At the same time, the housing affordability crisis and other factors are driving up demand to house and service homeless individuals. Re-Habit offers one adaptive-reuse solution for multiple problems.”
As an example, KTGY proposes a concept for transforming a typical 86,000-square-foot anchor store. An entry path to the mall is carved out of the mass, and retail spaces in varying square footages front the path to the mall entry. This allows for the creation of a courtyard and three sizes of sleeping rooms, from 20-bed pods to 2-bed domiciles. Eight apartment units sit above the retail. Job training, services and recreational programming join the mixed-use program. Added roof space is for recreation and a garden.
To achieve these solutions, KTGY’s R&D studio toured homeless service centers. In extended consultations with Southern California’s Long Beach Rescue Mission, for example, team members evolved the most effective designs and how to integrate such projects with surrounding communities.
“I’m very excited about this idea,” said Long Beach Rescue Mission executive director Robert Probst. “Re-Habit, if run correctly, can be a self-contained environment, with people living, working and then moving into affordable housing. It would be a reward for people who are ready to change their lives.”
Probst envisions Re-Habit centers providing employment and self-help programs and “graduating” them into more long-term housing and employment. “Many of them become the best renters and the best employees,” he said.
Potential challenges include cost, location and identifying development partners.
“For most big-box owners, this would not be their first choice for reuse,” said KTGY’s Kasdan. “But on the flip side, many have asked us about new concepts for incorporating residential units into their developments. Re-Habit expands the reuse possibilities and allows everyone to consider communities’ larger needs.”
At the same time, increasing numbers of big-box stores are obsolete, and many developers are open to re-thinking retail anchors and possibly adding unconventional uses, said Kasdan.
“Our retail team has studied potential base sites and many clients are interested in learning more about this concept,” she said.
As Re-Habit is not ground-up construction, it offers certain cost and sustainability benefits. The intention with the Re-Habit concept is to provide a strategic adaptive re-use solution.
“Such a project does not need to appear as a ‘homeless shelter.’ By partnering with the right team of developers, social services, government entities and community groups, it’s possible to create an attractive environment that transforms obsolete space into a real asset.”