Former Sears Site to Hold Convocation Center, Career Academy

December 12, 2023|


MORROW, Ga. The site of a long-time mall anchor that is no longer there is now the future location of a regional career academy.

Peachtree City-based MEJA Construction, in partnership with Perkins & Will, broke ground this month on the Clayton County, Ga. School District’s future $117 million Student Convocation Center and College and Career Academy.

The site is the former Sears location on the end of the active Southlake Mall in Morrow, roughly 20 minutes south/southwest of Atlanta along Interstate 75. The facility, being designed by Perkins+Will, is designed to include a graduation arena so the college district no longer has to rent venues for its commencements.

MEJA Construction representatives estimate the large-scale project will complete in Summer 2025.

Among other public partners, Clayton County contributed $10 million toward the build.

The Trend

This example of a learning institution finding opportunity in the site of a former retail anchor is not unique. Particularly in the short years prior to the Covid pandemic, schools, colleges and universities began to see clear benefits in acquiring – or merely leasing – already vacant shopping malls and department store buildings.

One instance occurred in March 2021. Burlington (Vermont) High School found a new home within the walls of a former Macy’s at the Burlington Square Mall, which has been in existence since the mid-70s.

A few years earlier, in 2018, California’s College of the Desert bought an entire abandoned shopping mall in Palm Springs, according to commercial brokerage house JLL.

Lest anyone think that the trend of schools repurposing former retail sites – or building anew, as Clayton County, Ga. is doing – is merely a recent real estate trend, it has been going on for well more than a quarter century. Case in point is Robert Morris University Illinois, which in 1998 opened its Chicago campus at 401 South State Street in what was once a thriving department store.

Siegel-Cooper Company built and opened its initial department store there in 1887. In 1915 the department store giant declared bankruptcy. The building closed but shortly thereafter, its purpose changed and it served as a military hospital during World War I. Later the building would become a warehouse. Now it’s home to Robert Morris, which was integrated by Roosevelt University in March of 2023.

Vince Tibone, managing director and analyst of retail and industrial at California-based Green Street Advisors, says this repurposing is going to continue as a major trend going forward.

“We’ve really just scratched the surface of what you’re going to see,” Tibone says, adding that more than 1,000 malls across the U.S. are struggling. “There is a very large pool of malls that we think aren’t going to be viable retail destinations anymore.”





















View Our Latest Print Edition

Fresh Content
Direct to Your Inbox


Join CNR Magazine today as a Content Partner

As a CNR Content Partner, CNR Magazine promises to support you as you build, design and engineer projects not only in and around St. Louis, but also across the U.S. CNR is equipped and ready to deliver a dynamic digital experience paired with the top-notch, robust print coverage for which you’ve always known and respected the magazine.