One by one, businesses have been announcing plans to open new stores in shuttered big box locations across the Quad-Cities. But in areas still cluttered with vacant stores, community leaders are getting creative.

Over the past couple of years, major national companies have struggled to keep up with the changing retail landscape. As more sales move online, more big box stores have closed doors. 

Younkers, Sears, Toys R Us, and most recently Payless Shoesource, have fallen victim to this trend — leaving vacancies on both sides of the Mississippi River. Moline also has lost its Best Buy and Sam's Club stores. 

"Many of the closures are a product of a changing retail environment," said Laura Crossman, corporate marketing manager for Macerich, which owns both NorthPark and SouthPark malls. "But each closure brings new opportunity." 

In some cases, big box stores are being refilled with new national retail chains. In recent months, Big Lots announced plans to open on 16th Street in Moline, in the former Toys R Us location. Also in Moline, a new Marshalls department store will open in space which formerly housed Staples. 

In Davenport, the large lot that still houses the former Toys R Us building is being divided up by businesses. University of Iowa Community Credit Union is constructing a new facility on the lot, but plans have not yet been announced for the Toys R Us store. 

"While individual properties have unique challenges, several structures that have seen their retail tenants leave in recent years have since been filled or redeveloped," said Bruce Berger, Davenport's community planning and economic development director.

Berger pointed to the redevelopment of two Kmart stores, on West Kimberly Road and Brady Street, and the former K's Merchandise. A new 6,200-square foot retail center housing Stanton Optical recently replaced a BP gas station on Kimberly Road and Brady Street. 

But several vacant stores still clutter Davenport and Moline. On the Illinois side, realtors are seeking to lease the closed Best Buy space, for example.

"Admittedly, properties where Office Depot, Gander Mountain and Dick’s Sporting Goods formerly operated are not yet filled, but new retail — including Home Goods, H&M, Dry Goods, and Costco — have occurred, as well as new restaurant, office, housing, and hospitality investments across (Davenport)," Berger said. 

Crossman said mall managers are searching to refill the spaces left behind by Younkers and Sears. 

"Macerich is leading the discussions with new and emerging brands, including those that are experiential retail," she said. "This is a long-term process and we ask our neighbors to be patient as we fill the space with the what is right for the community."

Berger said the city of Davenport is working with Macerich to create a master plan for the revitalization of the Brady Street corridor. City staff has met with Macerich representatives to discuss creative reuses for the mall and surrounding property. 

"Macerich approached us and is interested in brainstorming on future vision of both their property and the surrounding area," Berger said. "Combined with the closure of the Hotel Davenport, the mid/north-Brady area is well-positioned for redevelopment. It is too early to speculate on any specific geography, partnerships, or what elements will be evaluated, but there is certainly growing interest in revitalizing that corridor."

According to budget documents, city staff will begin work on a corridor redevelopment study this year.

Crossman said the mall managers are coordinating with the city to ensure the success of NorthPark. And both malls have been looking for less traditional tenants that offer experiences, rather than products. 

"We are focused on supporting start-up companies to help them test their products through flexible leases," she said. "Our sister-centers have discovered success with medical offices, interactive artwork studios and new apparel and accessory brands. We hope the same for this market."

Economic development leaders hope infrastructure improvements — such as the opening of the reconstructed John Deere Road in Moline — also will continue to boost the retail market.

"Certainly the opening of Veterans Memorial Parkway, W. 76th Street and the upcoming 53rd Street widening are all great examples of infrastructure enhancements that will help foster economic development," Berger said. "In addition, the final phases of road and rail improvements in and around the Eastern Iowa Industrial Center in 2019 will be key projects." 

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