Study: Few sites for smaller big-box footprints in urban Chicago

Chicago -- A real estate report released Wednesday by Mid-America Real Estate Corp.’s Urban Team found that much of Chicago lacks the type of product that today’s downsized big-box retailers are looking for.

“Retailers’ footprints are shrinking,” said Mid-America principal Dan Tausk, author of the report. “From Wal-Mart to Best Buy to Office Depot, we continue to see a national trend toward shrinking square footage, which is expanding the vernacular from ‘super’ or ‘mega’ stores to include ‘market,’ ‘express’ and ‘neighborhood’ stores. If that trend continues – and I expect it to – then we’ve got a real lack of product to offer them in most of urban Chicago.”
 
The “Urban Chicago Mid-Box Retail Study” examined existing and vacant space for stores between 15,000 sq. ft. and 50,000 sq. ft., excluding proposed new development that hadn’t been delivered. It uncovered nearly 11.2 million sq. ft. of existing supply in the mid-box category, or 389 total spaces. It also discovered a vacancy rate in this size category at 7%, with strong absorption of existing vacancy.

“The average amount of mid-box retail in urban Chicago is 3.5 sq. ft. per person,” said Tausk. “Zone 1 (Central City) shows 14.6 sq. ft. per person while Zone 5 shows the lowest in Chicago of 1.2 sq. ft. per person. That’s a wide disparity of haves and have-nots.”
 
Tausk said the residential density in Zone 5 is obviously high enough to support more retail with residents. But he suggested that because the price of land there is high and land size is limited, retailers are pushed to accept multi-level buildings, which are lacking in this zone.

“Right now, it’s difficult for them to expand here, despite the desirable demographics,” Tausk added.
 
Overall, according to the report, five of the eight identified zones show that almost every category of mid-box retail is underserved for similar reasons -- from grocery and apparel to electronics and discount.

“There’s demand for mid-box growth in urban Chicago, despite a tough economy,” said Tausk. However, existing supply is tight everywhere and almost non-existent in the most attractive zones. He added that there are three main considerations retailers will be forced to evaluate in the process.

•    Retailers with expansion/rollouts for Chicago will need to continue to think creatively, finding opportunities in multi-levels, mezzanines or even smaller stores to meet future demand.

•    Retailers can expect rents to remain high in the mid-size sector due to obvious lack of supply and low vacancy.

•    Future opportunity in this mid-box size category may best come from downsizing/sublease space or the splitting of outdated larger footprints and future bankruptcies of other retailers.

•    Absorption in this size range is strong and happens quickly with greater than a half-million sq. ft. of leasing currently proposed in existing space.

From the supply side, Tausk said that based on this supply/demand dynamic, “we can expect to see a slow but steady flow of new projects in this size range. Several developments are underway currently that are focused on the 15,000-sq.-ft. to 50,000-sq.-ft. user. Mid-box retailers such as Ross Dress for Less, Marshalls, Michaels, WalMart Market, HhGregg and Planet Fitness continue to pursue active expansion across Chicagoland.”
 
Based on demand, coupled with a lack of supply, he said it is expected there will be some new construction in urban Chicago over the next 24 to 36 months. But, “as always, consolidation, bankruptcy and sub-lease space caused by continued downsizing could alter the supply side significantly as the economy continues to recover.”