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March 13, 2009

Pity the Poor Speculative Strip Mall Developer


For all the talk about how people canít sell their homes, there just isnít enough pity for all the poor developers who built speculative strip malls over the past several years.


Now, I know what youíre thinking. You hate strip malls. Theyíre ugly, lacking in character and have a tendency to add to snarled suburban traffic. Some guy built a strip mall on spec and now itís sitting empty? Good, you say! Screw him! Heís evil anyway.


You are so harsh. Iím glad I donít do business with you. Mr. Poor Speculative Strip Mall Developer had some tough breaks come his way.


First of all, three years ago when he built the strip mall, the economy was booming (the real one, not the one you read about in the Associated Press) and there was plenty of capital available for people to use to start businesses. And people who start businesses need places to work!


Then a couple of things happened. The first was that there was suddenly no longer any capital available. The second was that people no longer needed a place to work. Granted, you have to work somewhere, but you donít need your own office. Iím sitting in a coffee shop writing this. (In fairness, the coffee shop is in a strip mall, but Iím not sure how the coffee shop makes money when people like me buy a $2 cup of coffee and sit here all day.)


I just secured a project from a client in Syracuse. An hour earlier, I worked out the details on a project with a partner in Los Angeles.


Why would I lease space in a strip mall when I can sit here and do all that? That would be insane, and I am not insane, in spite of what you know.


So what are we going to do with all this vacant commercial property? Well, since weíre in the age of economic stimulus and the like, we need to think creatively. We need to think of things to do with those properties that create an economic multiplier, or whatever they call it. I think it means that when youíre trashing the investment on which youíve already lost your shirt, you create paying make-work for someone else.


So here are a few ideas:


  • Use them as new homes for NFL teams. Granted, they are not very big, you canít fit that many people inside and itís kind of hard to throw a bomb when you have a 15-foot-high roof (let alone punt or kick a field goal). But you know those $10 million contracts they give quarterbacks in the NFL? And you know how they need 80,000-seat stadiums, paid for by taxpayers, to generate the revenue to pay those salaries? Yeah, well those days are over. So downsize the whole economic structure of the NFL, move the games into strip malls and save a fortune.


  • New corporate headquarters for General Motors. I donít really think I need to elaborate on this, except to say that you might be able to stick all the dealers in there as well.


  • I hear that things are so bad now that even some casinos are going bankrupt! Thatís a neat trick. Move the casino to a strip mall, replace the ice sculptures with cubicle panels and stick your slot machine along the wall opposite Papa Murphyís Pizza Ė you might have a fighting chance.


  • Speaking of downsized operations that might need a new home, if the Obama defense budget comes out like some people think it will, what will we need with that gigantic Pentagon?


You may have your own ideas. Mine are surely better, though. After all, whatever other stupid decisions Iíve made, I was smart enough not to build a strip mall on spec.


© 2009 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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