Guest Post: Who loves abandoned Wal-Marts and K-Marts?

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Doug Simpson shares one education company’s exciting efforts — presented last Friday at the Louisiana Smart Growth Summit — to breathe new life into abandoned big box retailers.

AUGUST 20, 2010 – An Alabama-based adult education company seeks out vacant “big box” retail sites and shopping malls to rehabilitate and turn into new campuses, the company’s marketing chief said today.

Don Keith, a vice president at Education Corporation of America, said a planned new campus in an old shopping mall in Baton Rouge will be the latest in a string of old retail properties the firm has modified and transformed into classrooms and offices. The company plans to open a campus of its Virginia College at the site of the former Cortana Mall in Baton Rouge.

“We love abandoned Wal-Marts and K-Marts,” Keith told a group of community planners. “And there are a lot of them out there.”

Keith spoke at the Smart Growth Summit, an annual gathering of those involved in community planning in Louisiana occurring this week. The summit is organized by the Center for Planning Excellence, a nonprofit organization that facilitates planning processes at multiple community scales.

Keith’s company has also opened campuses in old retail sites in Chattanooga, Tenn., Jacksonville, Fla., and Birmingham, Ala., he said. The company’s headquarters, in Birmingham, is at a former headquarters of HealthSouth Corp., he said.

Also speaking at the summit’s forum on reusing empty buildings was Karen True, community development director at Bellevue, Wash.-based Third Place Company. Her company got its start with a bookstore in a then-abandoned mall, which has since expanded with shops and restaurants and now regularly hosts concerts, health fairs and other events.

For more information on the Smart Growth Summit, visit