Mall owners have hit on a new way to fill gaping holes left by failed department stores and other departing big-box tenants: hosting public schools in need of more space.
Landlords are focused in particular on the nation’s 7,500 charter schools, which are public-funded institutions run independently of school districts. These schools usually have to find and finance their own buildings.
In cramped cities and other places where land is scarce, charter schools and mall owners are finding common ground. Dozens of charter and other public schools have leased space in shopping centers, public records show.
Students at the Gem Prep: Pocatello charter school in Chubbuck, Idaho, attend classes at a former Sears department store in the Pine Ridge Mall. The Watsonville Prep School, in the Northern California town near Santa Cruz, has looked into taking space at a retail building in a now-defunct Gottschalks department store.
In the Elmhurst neighborhood of Queens, N.Y., a charter school with 400 middle-school students signed a 32-year lease in January for space at Justice Avenue Tower. The Central Queens Academy Charter School is joining a new mixed-use project that will have medical office space and 184 condominium units.