New uses for existing buildings

A couple of local news articles has gotten me to thinking about prospects for new uses for older buildings. I’m always intrigued about how an existing building can be re-purposed for a new life. Each day I drive by what was a funeral chapel in our town that is for sale and doesn’t appear to have any eager customers at this time. I also drive by another former funeral chapel that is a day care center. The one that is still for sale is probably not the best address for a day care center. I think that there are a few congregations in our town who might consider it for use as a church, but it has a couple of problems. It is probably over priced for a church of that size to buy. And it has the big garage that is space that a church just doesn’t need. Still it might be converted with relatively small amounts of remodeling.

The two news stories are about the sale of the former Star Academy by the State of South Dakota and the Sears Holdings announcement that it is closing an additional 103 stores - 64 Kmart stores and 39 Sears stores. That is after more than 400 stores were closed last year. On the list for closure is the Sears store in Rapid City, one of the anchors of our only enclosed shopping mall. The mall lost its Target store a few years ago and it took a long time for them to find another renter. That store is now occupied by a company called At Home that sells home furnishings, rugs, and other related items. But there is no doubt that the mall is not as attractive nor as fully occupied as was the case a couple of decades ago. It seems likely that Rapid City is over built when it comes to retail space. The times are changing. More and more retail sales are made online and brick and mortar stores are less attractive and less successful than once was the case. We have a lot of places for shopping and the mall doesn’t seem to be the kind of destination for shoppers as was once the case.

That gets me to thinking about what else a community like ours might do with the space. There are already quite a few examples of things located in the mall that are not retail stores. The AARP office is in a mall storefront as well as the Armed Forces Recruiting Center, a marshal arts studio, the South Dakota Department of Motor Vehicles, a Spa, an Income Tax preparation service, a church, a Police Sub Station, a theatre group, and a Social Security Service Center. I wonder what kind of tenant might want the large space currently occupied by the Sears Store. The space doesn’t lend itself well into becoming apartments or town houses. It wouldn’t easily be made into a health care center. It would be hard to divide up into office space. It isn’t right for a school. I can think of a lot of things that wouldn’t work, but I’m not coming up with good ideas for what the space might become if it turns out that there is not a major retailer interested in renting the space.

The other space in the news is the former Star Academy. The facility, located on a beautiful campus in the heart of the Black Hills was once a state run juvenile detention and rehabilitation facility. Changes in law enforcement and juvenile incarceration have made the campus unnecessary in today’s climate. That is a good thing, but it seems to me to be a bit sad that the State proceeded to a bargain-basement sale of the property instead of thinking of how it might be repurposed for the service of people in our state. We clearly need a state mental health treatment center in the western part of our state. The state’s two existing facilities in Redfield and Yankton aren not well situated to provide crisis relief for those suffering from mental illness in our community and both claim to have a shortage of beds, although I suspect that the problem has nothing to do with furniture and everything to do with staffing. I could imagine the state investing some money in developing the Star Academy space into a multi-purpose treatment center for addiction, acute mental illness, and other much needed services, but that possibility is now lost as the property has been sold. I suspect that the buyers have a vision for developing the property and I wish them success in their venture, but it is sad to have the church exchange such an irreplaceable resource for a bit of money. We all know how fast the state goes through money. The money, I’m sure, will soon be gone.

I can’t imagine the Sears Store being remodeled into an acceptable treatment facility for those suffering from addiction or mental illness. Maybe an architect with a better imagination than mine could see such a possibility, but it doesn’t seem like a good use of the existing space to my way of thinking.

Rapid City Collective Impact envisions turning a former college campus into a comprehensive facility for providing a huge range of services to homeless people. I haven’t caught up with their vision, but it is worth consideration. At least they are thinking about repurposing existing buildings. The Sheriff is nearing completion of a remodeling of one of the campus buildings into a drug and alcohol treatment facility. It appears to be an improvement over the existing City/County Alcohol Treatment Center. It will be easier to staff than the existing facility because it is right across the street from the courthouse and convenient for staff sharing with existing Sheriff’s Office functions.

So I’m hoping that all of the changes in our community will be accompanied by creative thinkers who can envision new purposes for old buildings as opposed to tearing down the buildings and replacing them. Time will tell what will happen.

In the meantime, I can’t think of anything that I want to buy from Sears before the store closes in April. I guess that is part of the problem.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!