Teams that meet in malls

My team (5413, Stellar Robotics) just lost our build space because of Covid-19. We’re considering approaching the local mall which has a lot of empty space.

I know of several teams who have a similar situation. Last I heard (granted, a few years ago) 1038 was meeting in a largely empty mall. They hosted the 2013 Ohio state championship offseason event there.

Can I get a roll call of teams that meet in a mall? In addition, can individuals from those teams comment on the nature of that relationship? Are you renting the space? Is it donated? Are you paying utilities? Are you using a store “stall” or other space? More than one room? Is the mall still operating or is it completely empty of stores? Do you have access after hours (if the mall is still operating)?

EDIT: We also operate FTC, FLL, and JrFLL teams (still working on how those are divided up between the new program levels) so if your team operates those younger programs I would like to know how that fits in as well as we would prefer to keep our programs under one roof.

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@Clem1640

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Teams 5190, Green Hope Falcons and 5511, Cortechs Robotics from North Carolina meet in a mall. @Akod can comment further

Edit: see Prateek’s post

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Our team (5190) has worked in a mall for the 2018, 2019, and 2020 seasons and the space is rented (cannot disclose amount due to team restrictions). We even have an address on Google Maps: https://goo.gl/maps/RLtqRQjLzWQJkCwk7

I believe the space we are in currently used to be a toy store, so it’s relatively large (space for a full-field, build area, programming area, admin area, and machine shop). The mall is still operating, but a lot of stores have left over the past few years and foot traffic has been on the decline.

We cannot enter our space after-hours, but we can stay as late as we want (our evening meetings on weekdays are from 6pm to 9pm; the mall closes at 8pm).

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Don’t you also host a couple of other teams as well?

Yes, we have also hosted Team 4816: holographic in 2019 and 2020 and we love working with them! In addition, we have invited several NC teams (including Titanium Tigers!) to our space for practice during the season.

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I know 900 operated in a mall in the past; tagging @marshall for insight.

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See my edit about FTC, FLL, and JrFLL as well.

299 meets in a mall. The space is donated and we pay utilities. We’ve been in a few places in the mall, starting at the empty daycare, then got moved to the empty 24 Hour Fitness (our favorite space), and now we operate out of an old Italian restaurant. Unfortunately the mall is scheduled for demolition and remodeling within the next year so we too are searching for new space options.

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And a real boon that’s been too! We haven’t had much space (though hopefully we’ll have more in our new school building) so to be able to use your practice field has been incredibly helpful for testing and refining our robots these last couple of years. We’d never have been able to do as well as we have without your kind invitation. It’s been much appreciated.

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Yes, we did.

So we paid rent of about $1500/month on quite a bit of space to house 3 FLL/ 1FTC/ 1FRC teams. We also had a lot of guests to come in. It was a good relationship but I don’t wish to leave the school again if I can avoid it.

Having the space at the mall was troublesome from a management perspective. We had to provide for a lot of facilities ourselves that we otherwise wouldn’t have to provide for at a school (toilet paper gets to be expensive). I can also go into the finer details of inspections for back flow preventers if you want.

If it’s your only choice then negotiate a reasonable rate because collecting money from you is better than letting a space sit empty. Keep aware of any fire inspections and make sure you don’t have ANY extension cords left lying about… surge protectors with long cords are fine but extension cords left plugged in are not ok.

So much was learned over a 2 year period.

Yeah, they used to have a space in Northgate Mall in Durham, but that would be pretty problematic now since the interior part of mall is shut down. The Zebracorns now work out of the Mechantronics lab in the North Carolina School of Science and Math, their host school.

Edit: I see that Marshall has answered too, before I could get this out.

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Thanks for the ping Danny.

We’ve been working out of a mall since 2017 (the same mall that 5190 is in) and our experience in the mall has been really great. We pay rent but I cannot disclose the rent amount but I can tell you we don’t pay the full price that a normal tenant would pay.

Our space used to be an old toy store so both the front and back of the space have a lot of room. Our team is also usually under 30 people and most meetings don’t exceed 15 at one time so there was never really any cramped feeling.

We’re lucky enough that mall management is pretty lenient with whatever we do. We’ve been able to host multiple FLL Jr. Expos and general workshops in the mall. Like Prateek said, the mall lets us meet after hours and anyone can technically come in after closing through our back door but usually our meetings ended by 9pm.

The mall is dying and there is a potential plan to turn the mall into a sports complex at some point. I don’t think anyone is really sure when that will happen so we’ll just keep going in our current space.

If you do go the mall route, make sure you’re clear with management about the things you want and make sure they’re all good with those things. It’s also cool to have another team in the mall; there are times where we desperately need something but don’t have it in our space but luckily I can just run across the mall and ask 5190 for it and they’ll probably have it.

If you have any other questions or want pictures or something, let me know.

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One of the Houston area teams used to work out of a small, quiet, suburban strip mall until their STEM Center was built. Since it was in a strip mall, they had access any time they wanted and they could park close to the store. There are a lot of these suburban strip malls in the Houston area that are only half occupied, or less. I believe they rented the space. They may have gotten a discounted rental rate that the landlord wrote off in some way.

While on vacation, I came across an FRC and FTC team working in space in an open-air mall in Kauai. Since it was not an enclosed mall, I would imagine they also had 24 hour access. The mall was about 2/3 occupied with stores. The store next to the one used by the FRC team was used by someone teaching ballet but I didn’t see any signs indicating it was a dance school so I would guess it was used by some community group.

The nice thing about the strip malls vs. the large, enclosed malls is that the individual units often have their own small washroom. Some also have a garage door in the back.

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There is a pattern here. It’s best to be aware of this.

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Yes. This is a risk. Almost all of the mid-sized enclosed malls have died in the Houston area. These typically only had two or three anchor tenants that were department stores like Macy’s and Sears who have all gone into steep decline. The few big enclosed malls in this area are all full so it is unlikely that a team would get a spot in one of those.

On the other hand, the small suburban strip mall that the Houston area team used to work out of has been about half occupied for the last 10 years and doesn’t seem to be falling into disrepair. I am guessing the landlords are at least breaking even with that level of occupancy since I see many other small suburban strip malls here with a similar level of occupancy.

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What Marhsall noted here is a really important thing.

If you do go the mall route, ensure that you have other options ready should you be forced out at any moment. We have a shortlist of places to go (some spots in strip malls that shouldn’t die) to if we need to move and I think that most teams should have that tentative plan ready whether or not they’re in a mall (especially for community teams like ours).

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This is the hard part from my experience. AC units of the roof variety can be tricky things and can create unexpected expenses. Commercial tenants tend to take on a lot of responsibility from the landlords so the main thing is just being prepared for all of that. It’s not quite the same as renting an apartment.

It’s not that it’s a bad idea… sometimes you just have to do what you have to do for a team to survive but there is a lot to be aware of.

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As more and more teams are impacted by limitations being placed on their access to build spaces in schools or sponsor facilities and the growing blight of empty retail spaces across the country I have wondered if this may become more common for teams to work out of empty retail space. For those of you that have experience running team(s) out of mall or other retail space, without revealing any confidential information, could you provide more information on approximate costs such as rental costs per square foot, expected monthly utility costs, and insurance requirements and costs?

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The first one varies wildly based on location. I don’t think any number will work and your best bet is to reach out to locations nearby and commercial real estate agents to get numbers. NYC and Durham, NC will have massively different prices.

Utility costs can also vary but ours were about $150/month for electricity and another $20/month for water/trash. These can also vary based on the services available to you and how it is divided up. We also paid for another $100/month for commercial Internet (TWC Business Class Cable) - as it was a commercial space, non business class wasn’t an option. An additional $1500/month for rent (2700 sqft) and “advertising” and other upkeep that the mall did… I’m not quite sure why we paid to be in the mall directories but we had to do that as part of the agreement. Insurance was about $500/year for the space and was required by the landlord.

If you have other questions then I’ll try to answer them. Please note that I can only answer them for the space we had in Durham, NC and these spaces are commercial and not the same everywhere.

More costs:

AC Upkeep required a $50/month contract (I think… I might have negotiated this to like $300/yr)
We had to pay for back flow inspection and some plumbing services - those were not cheap.

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