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10 new uses for abandoned malls

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In some parts of America, the giant malls that once served as community anchors are disappearing.

People aren't visiting malls like they used to. Blame the economic downturn and a broad shift to shopping online. Blame a new breed of busy shopper who simply doesn't have the time or energy to browse across an enormous mall.

Shopping centers, and neighborhood strip malls in particular, have closed down as consumers drifted elsewhere, leaving city planners and developers with a vexing problem: What to do with all that empty space?

Some cities are converting former shopping centers into office space, residences, churches and fitness centers. It's a matter of creativity but also of urgency. No one wants a derelict mall turning into a community eyesore. It's hard to repackage a massive space like that, but urban planners are trying.

Here are 10 new uses for abandoned malls.

Haunted houses

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Where do you head to escape a zombie invasion? To the mall, of course.

So it isn't surprising that developers of haunted houses are turning to abandoned strip malls as venues. In Wisconsin, the Hauntfest haunted house moved this year from a state fair park to a former Kmart store.

Malls have always been a little scary, though. Just ask anyone who's been swimsuit shopping or who has dropped off a teenager armed with Mom and Dad's credit card.

Data centers

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In Baltimore, one wing of the Marley Station Mall has become home to a data-center company. The transition has been so successful that the company wants to buy out the rest of the facility, The Wall Street Journal reports. Former stores in Mississippi and Indiana will soon house similar data centers.

The model has worked well for Rackspace (RAX), a data center and hosting company headquartered in San Antonio, Texas. It has overhauled two former malls in the state to use as office buildings.

Charter schools

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City officials in Boise earlier this year approved a plan to turn an abandoned mall into the home for a public charter school. The school had 550 students in grades K-10 last year and hopes to eventually grow to 1,000 students in grades K-12. The school has some of the highest test scores in the state.

Residences

Arcade Providence

The country's first enclosed shopping mall is now home to dozens of micro-lofts, many of them no bigger than 225 square feet. The small residences in downtown Providence, Rhode Island, have a mini refrigerator and microwave, but no oven or stove.

The site has a waiting list of 4,000 people, according to news reports. Part of that may be due to the extremely affordable housing -- units start at $550 a month.

Restaurants and hotels

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A suburb of Memphis plans to turn its factory outlet mall site into a large mixed-use development that includes restaurants and a hotel. The mall has been empty for more than five years. In Florida, Sears Holdings (SHLD) is asking the city of Aventura for permission to turn its department store and auto center there into an open-air village with restaurants, a hotel, office and retail space.

Large resorts

Uniland/Wonder Falls

Plans are underway to turn the former Rainbow Centre mall in Niagara Falls into a "Wonder Falls" Resort that includes a hotel tower, amusement facility and indoor water park. The resort, estimated to cost $150 million, is designed to make Niagara Falls more of a year-round destination.

Self-storage

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Over the summer, a struggling mall in Port Orchard, Washington, added more than two dozen mini-storage areas. Most of the traditional retailers that once populated the center are gone, according to the Port Orchard Independent. Now, the facility is home to a church, radio station, karate school and beauty and barber shops.

Office space

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A former mall in Mountain View, California, is being turned into an office complex with more than 500,000 square feet of space. Google (GOOG), which is headquartered nearby, has signed a lease to use the property.

Medical centers

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A mall in Jacksonville, Florida, is now a vast medical center, and developers have plans to add a gym, pharmacy, bookstore and physical therapy center, according to The Florida Times-Union. The mall is in one of the unhealthiest neighborhoods in Florida, with nearby residents suffering from high rates of diabetes and high blood pressure.

Film and TV studios

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Executives from Universal Studios and Turner Entertainment Group are turning the site of a former mall in an Atlanta suburb into a 25-acre campus for film and television work. The project has a $100 million price tag.

Georgia has become a center for TV and film production, reports the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

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