A beacon of suburban commerce in their prime, shopping malls today are all too frequently mere shadows of their former selves. The turn in economic fortunes has left many communities wondering what exactly to do with the vast structures, which often occupy large parcels of land in areas facing increasing development. Far from valueless, the buildings and parking lots are being transformed into new and more productive venues, such as fulfillment centers, schools, new housing, and in a new turn of events: healthcare facilities.
The first mall transformation was Jackson Medical Mall in Mississippi, founded in 1996. But nearly a third of “medical mall” transformations have been announced since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, brought about by retail closures due to lockdowns and changes in buying patterns by consumers. The re-focusing of healthcare on telemedicine and outpatient procedures makes the former spaces prime locations for providers seeking to offer more retail-based services.
The spaces themselves are frequently more attractive to patients as well. Traditional hospitals are situated in densely developed areas, difficult for patients to reach and navigate, often with limited parking or transportation options – a problem not shared by former shopping malls designed specifically to be easily accessible and to direct human traffic efficiently. Their vast footprint provides ample space to build out care facilities and offers plenty of room for future growth.
“Most of these hospitals are in areas where there’s just no room to grow. And if you do, it’s so expensive,” said Andrew McDonald, a former hospital administrator who leads health care consulting for accounting and consulting firm LBMC. “These buildings are old. They’re antiquated. They’re very expensive to maintain.”
Commercial real estate investors have also been receptive to the changes, with nearly every mall looking for mixed-use opportunities as their traditional tenants continue to vacate spaces. There is even room for both, with Citadel Mall in Charleston, South Carolina providing outpatient surgical services along with retail shops such as Target. Some of the new retail healthcare locations are in more diverse neighborhoods, making medical care more accessible to typically underserved populations who have previously struggled to reach traditional hospital facilities.
From total conversions to mixed-use facilities, the re-imagining of shopping malls is breathing new life into once dead spaces, bringing healthcare closer to patients in a model that benefits providers, investors, and community stakeholders.