Business

From a Walmart to a climbing gym. Empty big boxes are finding new uses.

Triangle Rock Club gym is putting a gym into a former Walmart building on Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway in Durham. It's another example of how landlords are turning to non-traditional retailers to fill empty retail space.
Triangle Rock Club gym is putting a gym into a former Walmart building on Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway in Durham. It's another example of how landlords are turning to non-traditional retailers to fill empty retail space. Courtesy of Triangle Rock Club

As big-box retailers across the country continue to decrease their footprints, landlords have been forced to think outside of the box on how to fill the cavernous spaces they leave behind.

The old Walmart building on Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway in Durham is a prime example of this new reality. It is now home to a rock climbing gym and a fitness center — a stark departure from its days as the country's largest retailer.

Triangle Rock Club announced earlier this week that it will put its third Triangle location in the former Walmart building at 1010 Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway. Construction will be done in two phases and will eventually account for 32,000 square feet. The first phase will get the gym up and running in Durham, while the second phase will include a roof lift and additional square feet to accommodate taller walls.

“We’ve been searching for the right opportunity to expand into Durham for nearly 4 ½ years, and we’ve found the perfect location for our newest (and largest) facility,’ said Triangle Rock Club Managing Partner Joel Graybeal in a statement.

The 107,000-square-foot Walmart building was listed on the market for around $6 million in 2016 before TOL LLC purchased it at the discount price of $2.5 million in 2017. Planet Fitness also takes up 25,000 square feet in the building now.

Large stores being transformed into new uses is the new normal, said Charlie Coyne, CBRE’s director of retail services in Raleigh.

“I wouldn't call it a trend anymore, it is here to stay,” Coyne said. Big-box retail locations across the country are being turned into fitness gyms, medical offices and municipal facilities, he added.

More than 90 million square feet of space is expected to be vacated in 2018, according to real estate data firm CoStar Group. Last year 105 million square feet of retail closed.

“The U.S. is just over-retailed, with too many stores and too much square footage,” he said.

Across the Triangle, you can find examples of former traditional retail space now being transformed into new uses.

Baker Roofing recently bought an old K-Mart in Garner that it will turn into its new headquarters. Alamo Drafthouse has turned an old Winn-Dixie grocery store into a hip movie theater near downtown Raleigh. Duke University is going to turn a closed Macy’s department store at Northgate Mall in Durham into medical offices.

“Malls are struggling all across the country and they are trying to be creative,” Melodie Pugh, director of marketing at Northgate Associates, said last year of Duke’s investment in the Northgate Macy’s space.

Northgate Mall has taken on a number of non-traditional mall tenants in an effort to fill empty spaces there. A part of the Durham County library is now housed there, the testing company Measurement Inc. has moved a large portion of its temporary workers into a 20,000-square-foot space and Planet Fitness has also put a gym there.

Planet Fitness also remade an old K-Mart location on Six Forks Road in Raleigh, while a Tuesday Morning and Dollar Tree filled a former Borders book store in the same Creekside Crossing shopping center.

Coyne said fitness centers are a popular option for landlords looking to fill a lot of space vacated by a retailer. He said that the gym chain O2 Fitness is about to announce three to four new locations in the Triangle, all in former retail spaces, including in a former Stein Mart building in Cary.

"You are going to see more and more of that," Coyne said.

Zachery Eanes: 919-419-6684, @zeanes
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