Shopping centers attracting medical facilities

The South Fulton site was anchored by Publix and had a barber shop, hair salon, veterinarian and several restaurants. However, expected big-box stores didn’t materialize and work was halted on nearby high-end subdivisions.

“It was a perfect storm," Venn said. "I opened my business in the midst of the worst possible economic situation.”

Yet location has paid off for Venn, 34, who grew up in the Decatur area, graduated from Lakeside High School and received degrees from Furman University and Meharry Medical College School of Dentistry.

"I benefit from the visibility," Venn said. "There is a benefit from folks seeing you where you are. When you’re a younger professional, you haven’t built a name for yourself and it’s hard to get exposure without referrals.”

His hours are similar to retail hours, which helps business.  “I’m here late," Venn said. "I’m here on weekends, while most traditional medical office buildings are 9 to 5.”

With metro Atlanta’s retail vacancy rate at 11 percent, shopping center owners want alternative use for their centers, including more health-care tenants.

Shopping centers are ideal for physical therapists, dental providers, urgent-care doctors, chiropractors, family physicians and other independent practices, said Bob Wordes, Atlanta-based Shopping Center Group operating partner and director of landlord services.

“Facilities are on the ground, occupancy costs are a lot less than building a new building and customers are drawn to shopping centers,” he said. "The fact that people can access doctors a lot closer to their homes is a positive thing. I think the trend will continue.”

From a landlord perspective, credit for a group of doctors is better than that of thetypical retail store owner. Health-care tenants  are more creditworthy, pay higher rents and draw clients from a larger geographical radius, said Steven Kaye, partner with Atlanta law firm Arnall Golden Gregory.

“For patients, it’s easier to get to and you don’t have to pay parking,” Kaye said. “It could be a relocation from an older or obsolete building to a location that is offering more ancillary services.”

The economic downturn has a lot to do with the trend, Scott Shuman of Arnall Golden Gregory added. “Retail shopping center owners are re-evaluating how they do business,” he said. “I don’t think once the economy improves this trend will go away."

Vacant retail space near hospitals is especially valuable, said Ted Benning, president of  Benning Construction Co., which specializes in retail and medical space and medical facilities construction. "Doctors want to be able to refer their patients to nearby hospitals for further services as a general rule of thumb," he said.

Converting old enclosed malls into medical campuses could be the next frontier.

"Good location is good location wherever you are," Benning said.

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