Posted: June 15, 2023 by Kelly Murphy-Redd
There seems to be a growing trend to convert unusual spaces into something other than what they were intended to be.

During the Covid working from home phenomenon, which seems to have outlasted Covid, commercial spaces are experiencing higher vacancy rates. What are owners to do? Think differently.

Charter schools, technical schools, churches, and daycare centers need space with a lot of parking. Annual fundraisers, special events, or flea markets can use temporary space. The haunted house at Santa Rosa Mall is an example. Conferences might be hosted in a commercial space.

We’ve all seen the many storage units popping up all over Okaloosa County. Could existing buildings be converted into these spaces?

I heard several economic developers in a class I recently attended, say they don’t have spaces for interested companies. Perhaps communities need to form an alliance to take existing vacant buildings and develop plans to convert them into potentially usable spaces for relocating or expanding businesses.

I mentioned virtual buildings in class as a possible way to attract business without the cost of entirely renovating or constructing a building. Engineers and designers could virtually design needed layouts for economic developers to use to attract companies to the community.

On the other hand, many companies are demanding workers come back to the office. There are many reasons for this. Managers can keep employees accountable for their time. Many people working remotely had second jobs their employers knew nothing about. Collaboration is easier when in person.

The work-life balance is easier to maintain when you can actually leave work and go home.  Social interaction at work is important. Many people have reported being lonely and cut off by working remotely. Technology already contributes to isolation without adding to it.

In the class I mentioned, I also heard an economic developer from Virginia say the military had leased a cave to store MREs. Another said West Virginia was leasing an old coal mine to a data center. Our own Santa Rosa Mall is being converted in large part to apartments. New York City is asking why vacant commercial space can’t be turned into housing. That’s some interesting thinking.

Will things keep changing? Of course. Will some things even out or get back to “normal”? Possibly. But what we seem to have learned is we can’t be complacent. We always need to challenge ourselves to keep thinking creatively.