LENOX -- A major demolition project to tear down the long-vacant, former Ames department store is underway in The Center at Lenox, a retail complex off Routes 7 and 20 that houses Price Chopper, Berkshire Bank, CVS Pharmacy, Marshall's department store and Radio Shack.
WS Development, manager of the property, has been clearing the site in order to attract a major retail tenant which would design a new building to its specifications.
A five-member crew from Regional Demolition Services in Worcester has been working up to 12 hours a day from dawn to dusk to separate the attached building from Marshall's and disassemble it within a few days, said site supervisor William Ralli of WS Development, based in Norton, near Boston.
The 489 Pittsfield Road center, except for the Friendly's restaurant on a company-owned separate parcel, is the property of MEC Lenox Associates, a limited partnership of S.R. Weiner & Associates in Chestnut Hill, just west of Boston.
No explosives are being used for the $300,000 demolition project, Ralli explained; instead, the vacant building is being taken apart and removed, section by section, under a permit issued by Building Commissioner William Thornton.
"You can't just rip stuff down," Ralli pointed out. "You have to be delicate, gentle. You've got people shopping in Marshall's, you've got inventory, that's the biggest thing."
On some afternoons, the project has attracted a group of spectators, Ralli said.
"It's quite a show here, we had people all lined up with their tables and chairs set up, but safety is our No. 1 concern," so the crowd is kept back a safe distance from the hard-hat zone. "They were watching us knock the wall down," he added.
"It entails cutting the beams, cutting the roof back and weatherproofing" the north side of the Marshall's building, he said. "The biggest thing with us is, we want to make Marshall's happy.
Another "biggest thing" was to separate the building, he said.
Work started two weeks ago, and by the time it ends next month, a new foundation wall for the north side of Marshall's will be built, followed by a block wall and new facades for the store and the adjoining Radio Shack, similar in style to Price Chopper and CVS.
"You'll see two nice buildings next to each other," said Ralli.
To cover the vacant land once the pile of rubble is hauled away, loam will be put down and grass will be planted to create a park-like oasis until a new tenant materializes, he noted.
There's no timetable yet for removing the old Price Chopper and adjoining space that the Schenectady, N.Y., chain replaced two years ago with a new $8 million superstore. The vacant store still houses utilities that feed the complex's parking-lot lights.
According to Laurel Sibert, vice president of marketing for WS Development, available space at the 36-acre shopping complex continues to be actively marketed, though no specific retailers have been identified.
"Prospective tenants will be more attracted to a new facility so we are taking the steps to head in that direction," she said.
The current project is part of a $30 million, multi-year upgrade of the Center at Lenox that began in 2010.
To contact Clarence Fanto:
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