Goodbye, shoppers; hello, corporate campus

Advance Auto Parts makes Crossroads Mall a high-tech work center

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Print this page by Paula C. Squires

Across America, older enclosed malls are falling on hard times. Some are being demolished to make way for new, regional outdoor shopping centers.

In Roanoke, Crossroads Mall escaped that fate.  The first enclosed shopping center built in Virginia back in 1961, the mall was long one of the region’s premiere places to shop. By 2009, though, many retailers had left.  Advance Auto Parts Inc., a leading supplier of automotive parts and accessories, already was a tenant. It decided to stay.

Today, the region’s only Fortune 500 company has spent $12 million transforming the mall into a corporate campus. Here, 1,000 of the company’s 1,600 local employees can work under one roof.  They enjoy exercising during the day while walking the wide aisles of the former mall. And it’s not unusual for them to congregate for collaborative meetings and after-work celebrations in a spacious café/lounge area.

“We use the common space for baby showers, retirement gatherings, the United Way kickoff — all the things we used to have to go off-site to do,”  says Shelly Whitaker, the company’s manager of public communications.

If there’s one thing an old mall offers, it’s space and a big parking lot.  Randy Young, vice president of real estate for Advance Auto, says the mall’s polished concrete floors and unpretentious big-box look complements the corporate culture of a company popular among do-it-yourself auto mechanics.  Plus, it made sense to stay put and take more space, rather than build new from the ground up.

The company, which occupied 156,000 square feet three years ago, has agreed to a long-term lease of more than 246,000 square feet.  “”Our IT function was expanding to support online commerce. We were running out of space,” recalls Young. “So we went back to the landlord and took advantage of the dead space inside the mall.”

The transition to a corporate campus has been done in phases. First up was the installation of a secure IT data center.  It serves as the company’s primary data center, with the corporate office overseeing   3,700 stores in 39 states.  The first phase — $4 million — also included construction of the café. 

Construction and furnishings took another $4.5 million. The campus is outfitted with the latest technology, such as video conference stations, work stations for laptops and Wi-Fi throughout the building. “We encourage people to get out of their cubes and to work on the network in different spaces,“ says Whittaker. 
The best part about the project, says Young, is that “it desegregated us. We were isolated in pockets. This allowed us to bring everyone together.”

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