Lured by the promise of a "sure-thing", investors piled into railroad stocks and the dense network of rail lines marched through the eastern, and then the western Great Plains.
Technology moved on.
With the advent of motor-vehicles and better roads, many of the spurs and feeder-lines became obsolete and were allowed to slide into disrepair. Lines consolidated. Many went bankrupt. Towns that relied on the commerce associated with rail lines became ghost towns.
The "sure-thing" over-played its hand and became a classic case of a growing organism overshooting the carrying capacity of its habitat or host.
One could make a cogent argument that the United States, and to a lesser extent Canada, are grossly over-built in terms of retail space.
If one were to look at the European Union and Japan as a basis, one could state that the United States has approximately five-times more retail space, per capita than it "needs" and Canada has four-times as much.
Nature abhors a vacuum. With that much space and so few customers, is it any surprise that America's malls are patrolled by feral youths?
Like three crack-heads trading financial advice
It gets worse.
The amount of space devoted to supporting e-commerce (warehouses) grew at an exponential rate over the last fifteen years. The largest players, realizing they were approaching some kind of limit, either cancelled projects or allowed them to be finished...but did not take possessions.
For various tax reason, many of those warehouses were not actually owned by the e-commerce retailers. Speculators built them on faith and a contract...a contract that had "escape clauses" on page 47.
Government officials, who had been rubbing their hands with glee in expectation of fat paychecks to tax and escalating land values to bloat property tax collections, were dismayed to find themselves with 500,000-square-foot, attractive nuisances on their hands.
Investors are fleeing like rats leave a sinking ship. The limited-partnership of the investment structure allowed them to walk-away after losing their initial investment with no further entanglements.
Government officials are doing what they always do, they "help".
Even as I type, there are undoubtedly clerks cranking out applications for grants to convert abandoned warehouse space into retail and entertainment venues. Never mind that these enormous buildings are far from other retail destinations. Never mind that retail is (arguably) grossly over-built. Never mind that these warehouses have parking lots that are approximately 20% as large as a comparable purpose-built retail building would have.
Government has an answer for everything. Public transportation will "fix" the problems with poor location and lack of a parking lot...and the drunks that spew out of the yuppy bars at two in the morning. Search for the funding for the public transportation will result in more grants.
Expect municipalities to float bonds to subsidize redevelopment of the sites. Bonds that taxpayers will be on-the-hook for if things don't pan out.
Memories are short. Seven years ago they were writing grants to turn vacant retail space in inner-cities and first-ring suburbs into warehouses.
Grab your popcorn, folks. This promises to get interesting.