Turning Old Kmarts Into Data Centers And Disaster Recovery Spaces

What’s the best way to revitalize dying retail infrastructure?

What happens when big box stores close down, leaving so much empty space behind? Few other retail environments need so much room. There is at least one former Walmart that has been converted in a giant library, but Walmart wasn’t involved in the effort—the building simply changed hands. Sears Holdings is taking a different approach: holding on to shuttered Sears and Kmart stores, and turning them into wireless towers, data centers, and disaster recovery centers.

Data Center Knowledge tells us that Sears Holdings has launched a new unit, Ubiquity Critical Environments, to convert a chunk of the company’s 3,200 properties (some are shuttered stores, some are open) into pieces of the modern global infrastructure.

Sean Farney, the COO of Ubiquity, tells Data Center Knowledge: "The goal is not to sell off properties. It’s to reposition the assets of this iconic brand. The big idea is that you have a technology platform laid atop a retail footprint, creating the possibility for a product with a very different look to it."

Ubiquity is currently looking at the viability of opening data centers at closed—and open—store locations. It already has the first location planned out: a 127,000-square-foot Sears store on Chicago’s south side that’s set to close in late June. The future data center will have multiple tenants; one has already signed up.

Sears’s mall-based stores aren’t ideal as data center locations, at least not while malls are still popular shopping venues. But they could work as disaster recovery centers. From the article:

"There are compelling reasons why this is a great model," said Farney. "It used to be the business continuity centers were located in an industrial park. The customer has evolved to the point where they want a sexier location, where they can have access to a Starbucks and other retail, because it’s possible they may be there for weeks or months. Sears and Kmart stores are located in just such retail locations in major malls."

Natural disasters are now such a normal occurrence that customers want "sexier" recovery locations, apparently. The Sears network of stores also makes sense in regional disasters like Superstorm Sandy, where many disaster recovery centers are necessary.

Ubiquity’s third target, wireless towers, is its largest. Farney explains to Data Center Knowledge:

"When malls were being built, they gravitated to the intersection of freeways and highways, and Sears got entry to all of them," said Farney. "These rooftops have proximity to the greatest mass of consumers available. As wireless users grow, the size of the cell is shrinking, creating holes in coverage. Having rooftop access to the cars and pedestrians around the malls is important. The Sears portfolio can capture that."

So as the suburbs continue to crumble and department stores/big box chains close down, Sears Holdings will still be here, providing all of your wireless, data, and disaster recovery needs. And one day, people may marvel that those big utilitarian spaces were ever stuffed with appliances, refrigerators, and toys from China.

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  • Malcolm

    Whilst the concept of turning large empty retail stores into DR centres is possibly a do-able thing, I cannot see how these units can be utilised as Data Centres. The build work just to incorporate Security will put a big dent into your Capex for the project. External walls and, in particular, external Fire exits and, of course, roof entry points are excellent for retail use where-by the Security emphasis is to prevent or reduce stock loss but is totally unsuitable for DC Security. You would need to re-inforce existing walls with concrete internal blocks and re-inforced concrete, metal close fitting fire exits with heavy duty door closers, etc.Then you will need internal Security, rip out the existing shop front doors to install DC suited doors with a secure interlock. Will the roof  structure be capable of taking the extra weight of A/C units or will these be securely enclosed in a secure ground floor environment. What then about cable runs where these units typically have solid flooring so a huge amount of cable runs will be needed as will electrical generation and supply units which is far bigger in electrical useage than shops ever were. What about BMS systems, air conditioning and air handling units to cool the suites, fire suppression equipment, smoke extract, UPS systems all of which might possibly make it cheaper to demolish these stores and rebuild from scratch. It would be interesting to see how an empty retail unit has already been converted.

  • Proud_NIMBY

    Response to Born 2 B Different: How about this - government mandated demolition insurance required for all property owners. If a structure on a piece of property is empty for a period of five years, the owner should be forced to use the policy which would pay for the demolition of the structure, reclamation and remediation, and compensation for the structure itself.

  • Proud_NIMBY

    "What’s the best way to revitalize dying retail infrastructure?"Uhhh, how about demolishing all the structures & parking lots and turning the land back into greenspace?

  • born_2b_different

    Who pays for the demo and reclamation?  How is the property owner compensated?