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Former Walmart site in Bridgeton

The empty Walmart that once anchored the Cypress Village shopping center on St. Charles Rock Road in Bridgeton. 

The Cypress Village shopping center across St. Charles Rock Road from Northwest Plaza has far less shopping going on than it used to.

Five years since the Walmart that anchored the center moved to bigger digs down the road, leaving behind a dying shopping center, the owner wants to rehab the empty big box space to get in on a hot real estate trend: self-storage.

For a retail center that is now 92 percent vacant, it’s something.

“No city is jumping up and down for self-storage,” said Zach Greatens, a Bridgeton city planner.

Still, he said, there’s a demand for it. And the owner of the site is proposing an indoor self-storage concept, so the rows of metal doors won’t be visible from the street. Bridgeton wouldn’t want a proliferation of self-storage facilities, Greatens said, but he said the city is “open to the use” at the empty store.

“Retail space across the whole country, especially with larger spaces, it’s pretty tough all over,” he said.

The shopping center’s owner, RMS Properties II LLC, which is connected to a Chicago investment group, has owned the site for more than a decade. It asked the Bridgeton Planning and Zoning Commission to allow the self-storage concept this week, and the commission recommended approval on Monday. The rezoning still needs final approval from the City Council.

Only a few of the storefronts attached to the west of the former Walmart space are occupied, though Greatens said the owner plans to keep the space. Several stand-alone buildings on the site do have tenants, including fast-food restaurants and a motorcycle parts store. The owner wants to eventually add three more buildings.

“Once the space formerly occupied by Walmart is adaptively re-used for self-service storage, the property will require significantly fewer parking spaces,” RMS Properties wrote in its application to rezone the property. “As such, the applicant intends to maximize the utility of the property by creating new opportunities for prospective users who prefer an outlot and stand-alone building.”

The empty Walmart space was built for the last generation of the retailer’s stores. It was replaced by a Walmart Supercenter less than two miles west near St. Charles Rock Road’s Interstate 70 interchange.

The city of Bridgeton subsidized the new Walmart with $7.2 million in tax increment financing (TIF), which lets developers borrow against the future tax revenue generated by new construction. Some regional organizations have long argued that subsidies shouldn’t be used for retail, but the Bridgeton City Council voted in 2010 to override a TIF Commission recommendation against the incentives.

Bridgeton has other empty big box spaces to contend with, including Kmart and Sports Authority locations that closed last year.

Other empty Walmart sites have drawn creative proposals. Amp Up Action Park, a go-kart and laser tag complex, was developed this year in a long-vacant Walmart in Town and Country.

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