Retail store vacancies rose last year in the Eau Claire area as large companies closed locations here, but those storefronts already have new tenants lined up.
Of more than 6 million square feet of retail space in Eau Claire, Lake Hallie and some neighboring rural areas, about 12.3 percent was vacant at the end of 2017, according to an analysis by Commonweal Development Corp. That compares with a 7.55 percent retail vacancy rate from 2016.
“Eau Claire’s strong retail presence does not appear to be at risk, but is still undergoing a changing landscape,” Stuart Schaefer, president of the Eau Claire-based development company, said in Commonweal’s annual market report released Thursday.
The report noted Eau Claire’s retail vacancy rate exceeded the national average of 12 percent — a first for the area since Commonweal began doing its annual analysis in 2007. While Eau Claire is experiencing changes to the retail sector that can be found throughout the nation, Commonweal expects stores won’t be vacant for long.
“We suspect many of the vacancies will need to seek adaptive reuse or complete redevelopment of the properties,” the analysis stated.
Companies already have announced they will move into some empty Eau Claire stores. Hobby Lobby announced in October that it will open one of its stores inside the former Macy’s at Oakwood Mall. Gander Mountain, which closed last year, is slated to reopen in spring as Gander Outdoors.
Eau Claire’s retail vacancy rate could’ve been higher if two of the shuttered Chippewa Falls-based Gordy’s Market stores hadn’t been reopened in December as Festival Foods. Two other Gordy’s Market stores in Eau Claire remain closed, adding to the retail vacancies.
Commonweal’s analysis also included office space and industrial buildings.
Office space vacancy dropped from about 9.8 percent in 2016 to 8.9 percent last year.
“The area’s office sector had some new projects and leasing activity, but did not see any larger projects or major leasing activity for a third year,” Schaefer said.
This was the first year Commonweal analyzed industrial buildings and discovered Eau Claire’s vacancies in that sector are well below national and regional rates.
Of the 11.2 million square feet of industrial buildings in the Eau Claire area, only 1.85 percent were unoccupied last year. That compares with 5.2 percent for the U.S. and 5.2 percent in the Midwest, according to the latest statistics available from international real estate company Colliers.
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