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CHARLOTTE-Real estate professionals and government planners here are becoming concerned over big-box vacancies at area shopping centers. Most of the time, the 100,000-sf-plus space at individual properties is difficult to lease to other retailers who might need only a fraction of the space.

Karnes Research Co., a locally-based industry tracker, notes big box-vacancies at some area malls are reaching 12% versus a 7% vacancy level for smaller stores. Some big-box retailers are leasing the empty properties themselves just to keep a competitor from setting up shop, brokers say.

In recent meetings, real estate experts and planning commissioners have found no easy answers. They all agree, however, that when big-box stores remain vacant, they often contribute to further decay in the shopping centers and the communities around them.

Charlotte’s big-box committee is tossing around ideas that might help make its empty stores easier to reuse, perhaps by changing zoning rules. Some real estate experts think the pattern of opening and abandoning big stores might be slowed by market forces. Still others aren’t sure that much of anything can be done to stop the pattern of empty anchors.

The average big-box store might spend 10 to 20 years in one spot. In some parts of Charlotte, they move even faster as they chase more favorable demographics, brokers say. The big-box operators are associated primarily with certain retailers, such as Home Depot, Best Buy, Old Navy and Wal-Mart. They remain popular because they offer shoppers low cost and convenience.

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