– Essentia Health is moving into the former Sears at Miller Hill Mall, making it the biggest tenant at the regional shopping center.

The Duluth-based health system didn't say which services would be moving or when, just that "several options are being considered for developing this property."

"We're still working on plans for the Sears space," spokesman Louie St. George III said in a statement Thursday. "Meanwhile, we are planning to move additional services into the open space on the second floor of the former Younkers store, including therapy services, occupational medicine and select retail services."

Essentia paid $4 million for the 109,000-square-foot store, St. George said. Sears closed its Duluth location in 2018.

Last year Essentia bought the 145,000-square-foot former Younkers space for $3.2 million, according to county records. It is currently home to the Center for Personal Fitness and Therapy and Performance Center.

Last year Essentia touted the Younkers move as "an opportunity to contribute to the redevelopment and vibrancy" of the mall. Many Essentia workers use the mall as a park-and-ride due to limited downtown parking.

As large retailers shrink their footprints at malls across the country, health care users have increasingly stepped into the massive vacancies.

"In recent years, malls have been losing traditional retailers and department stores, like Sears," said Kevin Cody, senior consultant at CoStar Group. "Conversely, health care has been one of the fastest-growing sectors, increasing its mall footprint by 37% since the start of 2016, equal to an increase of about one million square feet."

A report by real estate services firm CBRE says that as an aging population needs more health care facilities in the coming years, "shopping centers will be well-positioned both geographically and in terms of layout and access for these uses."

Among anchor department stores at Miller Hill Mall, just J.C. Penney remains.

Any plans for the Sears space still need to go before Essentia's board over the next several months.

Meanwhile, Essentia's downtown Duluth campus is getting its own $800 million upgrade over the next several years.