'Ghostboxes' haunting cities

The struggles of big-box retailers have left cities across the nation pondering how to make the best use of the large buildings sitting vacant.

In Myrtle Beach, SC, the leaders in Horry County are trying to fill empty big-box stores with call centers.

The vacant buildings meet the needs of call centers, which want open space inside and large parking lots, said Hugh Owens, president of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp., which recruits businesses to Horry County.

"We are trying to be a little proactive with it," Owens said. "We are not seeing a lot of [the empty big-box stores], but for those buildings that are vacant, our strategy is to try to find businesses like call centers."

The bankruptcies of retailers such as Circuit City, Linens 'N Things and others have led to more "ghostboxes" haunting communities.

Many are trying to find creative uses for those near-windowless monoliths. In Minnesota, one became a Spam Museum; in Texas, an indoor go-kart track; in Illinois, a church moved into an empty Wal-Mart. The new tenants, however, often generate less revenue for local governments.

And with the recent spate of bankruptcies and store closures, more abandoned buildings will be added to a struggling commercial real estate market. There are already hundreds of "ghostboxes" around the country.

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