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One possible solution to housing woes: Could malls make a comeback?

By MELISSA CROCKETT MESKE
macmeske@ibjonline.com

Missouri’s former Crestwood Plaza, the first regional mall in the St. Louis area, opened in the late 1950s, closed in 2013, and demolished in 2016. The former Jamestown Mall in St. Louis County suffered the same demolition fate recently after years of vandalism and continued decay; it had been closed since 2014. 

Still other regional mega-malls have been vacated, abandoned, and are nothing more than memories of a bygone era and a vast empty space now. 

But what if, at least in some cases, history could write a potentially more positive fate?

Case in point: Crestwood continues its longtime efforts to revitalize its former mall footprint through a mixed-use development plan that includes a Dierbergs anchor and other standalone stores, along with something a bit unexpected – residential space. 

Residential space? Well, sure, why not?

Jeff Mishkin

“The existing commercial real estate market in most metropolitan regions presently finds itself in a once-in-a-lifetime confluence,” says Jeff Mishkin of LJSM Inc. “There is a tremendous shortage of safe, clean, affordable housing stock, including rental units, for families and individuals. And in most markets throughout the country, there happens to also exist a surplus of vacant, soon-to-be-vacant, outdated, underutilized and functionally obsolete commercial, non-residential structures.”

“This existing regional and national supply and demand imbalance will eventually be corrected; however, I am quite certain it will not happen in the near future. This creates the opportunity we presently find ourselves in,” Mishkin adds.

Mishkin is the founder and president of LJSM Inc., and is a broker, developer, and consultant in the commercial construction industry. His firm’s business model is multi-discipline and encompasses two divisions: Commercial consulting and advisory services as well as mid- to large-size multi-family acquisition, renovation and development. 

Further offerings by Mishkin’s firm include architectural/design firm selection, general contractor firm selection and complete project estimating services.

An overview of the commercial consulting side of his business includes site analysis, building assessment, and project feasibility studies. LJSM Inc. additionally offers pre-construction services, project definition and guidelines, and site/building reviews including engineering and environmental thoughts and suggestions.

Opportunity Property Flip?

Mishkin is passionately involved in the discovery and potential conversion of underutilized or vacant commercial properties into higher valuable residential properties. 

“This, of course, includes factoring in possible limitations to redevelopment options,” says Mishkin, “as well as whether a commercial-to-residential redevelopment would make financial sense.” 

“Residential conversions are not possible for every property, or in every situation. But if a commercial site meets specific criteria, it could make sense for investors and stakeholders to explore a commercial-to-residential redevelopment conversion,” says Mishkin. 

Best candidates for “Opportunity Property Flip?”

Mishkin points out that some retail properties, such as regional and enclosed shopping malls as well as power centers that were built years ago, may be the most suitable candidates for converting to multifamily residential properties. Additionally, commercial properties which have become functionally obsolete as well as select industrial properties in urban areas may also be ripe for redevelopment. 

“Properties such as these, when converted to residential, can help address in-town housing shortages and allow investors to create substantial value for themselves,” Mishkin says further.

It’s not a ‘One Size Fits All’

“To increase the value of an existing underutilized property (through redevelopment) must be considered on an individual-by-individual property basis. Each under-performing retail or industrial property comes with its own set of circumstances and must be thoroughly analyzed,” he adds. 

Factors that significantly impact the redevelopment consideration: If the existing property is vacant or about to become vacant, or presently significantly underutilized; and if its financial proforma is dramatically underperforming while its current and ongoing expenses continue. As Mishkin points out, when a commercial property’s landscape is facing these factors, “It, therefore, is nowhere near achieving its financial potential from when it was initially erected.”

Mishkin continues: “Our consulting/feasibility deliverables allow the owner, investor, and/or stakeholders to ascertain whether it makes good financial sense to convert it to a multifamily residential property restoring and likely elevating its financial condition for years to come.”

“The initial and most important item LJSM is capable of achieving for our commercial clients looking to turn around their existing property is for us to perform a thorough feasibility study which will address all of the economic, financial, environmental, and market conditionals needed to determine if it makes good financial sense to advance to the next step of our conversion process and methodology.”

It is the initial responsibility of an existing commercial building owner client to understand where they are in the life cycle of their property, Mishkin also notes, and to have a reasonable understanding of both the existing market and the existing construction timelines and supply chains that are currently in force. 

“Also, it is wise to have reasonable expectations, and that not doing anything will likely lead to a negative outcome for them,” he adds, “as well as the potential need to sell their property for considerably less than they desire.”

Why this, and why now?

“Our region and entire country are experiencing a residential/housing imbalance,” says Mishkin. “And new construction and/or redeveloped housing stock continues to be absorbed at record levels as soon as a new development goes online. 

“Of course, this was not always the case; however, all indications are that this ‘imbalance’ will continue well into the future – where demand greatly outstrips supply. And from a developer and owner/operator’s perspective, commercial real estate continues to have tremendous tax advantages,” Mishkin says further, while quickly pointing out that he is not a financial or tax advisor and recommending anyone interested should seek out professionals for further advice. 

The need for this kind of redevelopment opportunity exists throughout the St. Louis Metropolitan area, including in the larger Metro East communities. “Look at Edwardsville as an example as to how new residential developments continue coming online and continue being absorbed,” says Mishkin. “There are many communities, counties, and states that have begun looking into this, and begun incentivizing interested developers and landlords to construct additional residential properties as well as convert existing not properly performing properties into additional housing doors.

“Populations are growing, and home ownership is becoming more difficult to attain for much of the lower and middle classes. Access to multifamily housing, as well as affordable housing options, is critical to the success of these growing communities,” Mishkin further notes. “By redeveloping a dark shopping mall or reactivating an existing retail center, an investor can create affordable and accessible housing, walkable neighborhoods, and more stable communities.”

“I am passionate about our community and our region and would welcome hearing from anyone who currently owns an underachieving retail or industrial property and who is interested in having an initial conversation,” he adds. “I’m happy to learn more about their property and their current circumstance as well as brainstorm some potential initial ideas and/or options as to how to increase their properties value.”

LJSM Inc. is in the initial stages of discussion on two separate commercial-to-residential redevelopments currently. One of those is in Madison County, the other in the City of St. Louis. Mishkin says his firm and clients are also hoping to take advantage of the new Missouri legislation (Senate Bill 792) which incentivizes developers who elect to rehabilitate vacant buildings across the state.

A December 2023 article published online at northmarq.com, “Redeveloping the Future: Converting Commercial Assets to Multifamily,” further reinforces Mishkin’s insights and commentary. Its author notes, “As investors seek to maximize value across their real estate portfolios, many will look for creative ways to reposition today’s underutilized assets. By converting an existing commercial property to multifamily or mixed use, investors have the potential to increase their cash flow and position themselves for long term gains.”

The article also points out perhaps the best part of this “Opportunity Property Flip:”

“Not only can investors increase the value of their own portfolios, but they can also contribute positively to the creation of vibrant and sustainable communities.”

To connect with Mishkin and LJSM Inc, call (314) 229-2806.

 

(Editor’s note: This story also appears in the February 2024 print edition of the Illinois Business Journal.)

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