Data centers in the suburbs

Data centers are important elements in the infrastructure of a Internet-based, networked world. So, it should not be a surprise to see them pop up in suburbs in the Chicago region:

Data center provider Element Critical is expanding into the Chicago market with the acquisition of two data centers in suburban Wood Dale, Illinois, the company announced today. The deal provides a third market for Element Critical, which currently has operations in Silicon Valley and Northern Virginia…

The two data centers the company has acquired in Chicago encompass 195,000 square feet of data center space. Wood Dale is in the suburban Chicago market, 17 miles west of downtown Chicago and two miles from O’Hare International airport. Element Critical did not identify the seller, but Sungard Availability Services is listed as operating two facilities in Wood Dale…

Last week CIM Group and fifteenfortyseven Critical Systems Realty (1547) acquired a data center at 725 South Wells in Chicago’s business district. The 66,000-square-foot facility was purchased from Digital Capital Partners, a wholesale data center provider. The building has 5 megawatts of capacity.

On Monday, New Continuum said that it has acquired its flagship data center at 603 Discovery Drive in West Chicago, Illinois. The company has been leasing the site since 2013, and was supported with financing by Post Road Group, a leading real estate bridge lender

I would guess that (1) very few Internet users think about data centers and (2) very few nearby residents could identify a data center from another kind of facility. For example, here is a Google Street View image of the Discovery Drive facility mentioned above:

DiscoveryDriveDataCenter.png

There are numerous good reasons to not widely broadcast what is taking place in such facilities – with similarities to urban buildings that house telecommunication centers – yet such buildings will increasingly become regular parts of urban and suburban landscapes.

Empty stores at the mall? Fill them with data centers

Here is one new solution to vacant stores at the shopping mall: use the space for data centers.

In Fort Wayne, Ind., a vacated Target store is about to be home to rows of computer servers, network routers and Ethernet cables courtesy of a local data-center operator. In Jackson, Miss., a former McRae’s department store will get the same treatment next year. And one quadrant of the Marley Station Mall south of Baltimore is already occupied by a data-center company that last year offered to buy out the rest of the building.

As America’s retailers struggle to keep up with online shopping, the Internet is starting to settle into some of the very spaces where brick-and-mortar customers used to shop. The shift brings welcome tenants to some abandoned stretches of the suburban landscape, though it doesn’t replace all the jobs and sales-tax revenue that local communities lost when stores left the building…

Many malls and neighborhood shopping centers are still grappling with vacancies five years after the recession. The average mall vacancy rate hovers around 5.8%, according to market researcher CoStar Group, the same level as in the third quarter of 2009. Strip-mall vacancy sits at 10.1%, down from 11.5% five years ago. Rents are down too. Asking rents at malls have fallen 16% over the past five years, while strip mall rents declined 12%, according to CoStar…

Converting retail properties isn’t simple, however. Data-center operators have specific needs for their properties including access to heavy-duty fiber optic communications cables and reliable and affordable power access. The buildings need to be able to withstand tumultuous weather, from hurricanes to tornadoes. Windows are a negative.

An interesting use of space. Since presumably some of these empty stores are in malls where there still are open stores, how exactly do these new data centers interact with their surroundings? Probably not very well if they are windowless.