|Berkshire Mall Bill Engrossed by State Senate|
|12:35PM / Thursday, March 01, 2018|
BOSTON — The state Senate has engrossed a bill that would allow the Baker Hill Road District to own real property and enter into agreements related to the Berkshire Mall.
"This is an important economic development initiative for Lanesborough and northern Berkshire County," said state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield. "By expanding the legal role of the Baker Hill Road District to include the redevelopment of the Berkshire Mall property, we gain a powerful new capacity to create jobs. I hope the district will develop an aggressive plan to position the complex as a regional revenue generator and host for thriving businesses."
H.3760, An Act relative to the Baker Hill Road District in the town of Lanesborough was filed by Hinds and the late state Rep. Gailanne M. Cariddi, D-North Adams, at the request of the road district.
The Baker Hill Road District was created by an act of the Legislature in 1989 for the purpose of maintaining Baker Hill Road, often referred to locally as the Berkshire Mall Connector Road, which links state Routes 7 and 8 and provides access to the Berkshire Mall. H.3760 expands this enabling statute to allow the road district to have a greater say in the prospective sale or use of property that is currently occupied by the region's largest retail complex, the Berkshire Mall.
The legislation allows the district to raise funds beyond what is required to maintain the road and enter into future purchase or lease agreements with mall owners. This will provide increased stability for the district and give local residents the opportunity to be a part of discussions for future neighborhood planning, without imposing financial burdens and oversight responsibilities on municipal officials in Lanesborough.
First opened to great fanfare in 1988 with approximately 80 stores and services, the Berkshire Mall is now struggling and is no longer a major retail destination for local shoppers. Four of the mall's five anchor tenants — Best Buy, Macys, Sears and JC Penney – have closed since 2015, leaving only Target, Regal Cinemas and slightly more than two dozen shops and services in operation. The owner, Berkshire Mall Realty Holdings LLC, a subsidiary of Kohan Retail Investment Group, is often cited in local media as behind on tax, water and utility bills.
Just last week, reports surfaced that power was cut off in portions of the mall building, reportedly because of unpaid energy bills.
The Baker Hill Road District is already working with the Berkshire Reginal Planning Commission to author a redevelopment plan for the Berkshire Mall. Supported by funds from both the state Executive Office of Energy & Environmental Affairs' Planning Assistance Grant Program and Baker Hill Road District, this effort is expected to result in a comprehensive reuse plan for the mall. It will focus on implementing relevant zoning and other regulatory changes that will expand possible future uses for the mall building, as well as researching the existing conditions of the property to understand the impacts that utilities and structural condition will have on possible redevelopment ideas. A final report is expected within 18 months.
Prior to Thursday's Senate actions, the bill was reviewed by the Joint Committee on Municipalities & Regional Government, which issued a favorable recommendation in March 2017. It was engrossed by the House of Representatives on June 15, 2017, and has since been under review by the Senate Committee on Rules. During this time Hinds worked extensively with his Senate colleagues and leadership to secure its approval.
The legislation enjoys strong support from the Lanesborough Board of Selectmen, Target Corp. and the road district's Prudential Committee. State Rep. John Barrett III, (D-North Adams, who now represents the First Berkshire House District, is working with Hinds to secure final passage of the legislation.
"Now is the time to give Baker Hill Road District the green light to dive in and promote innovative redevelopment strategies at the Mall," said Hinds. "The district is willing and able to take on this initiative on behalf of the community, and their success will contribute to the overall prosperity of the region."
H. 3760 now goes back to the House of Representatives for final enactment.