Photo Gallery | PEDA considers a proposed Walmart Supercenter
PITTSFIELD — A Needham-based development company has proposed building a 190,000-square foot-building that would house a Walmart Supercenter at the William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires.
The project, to be known as Woodlawn Crossing, would be a mixed-use development that eventually would feature medical offices, life sciences, retail, light manufacturing and research and development, according to Waterstone Retail Development.
Waterstone estimates the project would bring $300,000 in tax revenue to the city, and possibly as much as $500,000. It also would bring 350-plus construction jobs to the city, it said, and an additional 100 positions at Walmart. Most of the jobs would be full-time positions.
Waterstone, which made a presentation at Wednesday's meeting of the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, said the development would be located at the "teens" parcel, a 16.5-acre tract that is the 52-acre business park's biggest building lot.
In a prepared release, Waterstone refers to the construction of the Walmart Supercenter as the "Phase One retail portion" of the project. It would carry a price tag of $30 million — $18 million to construct the building, and $12 million to remediate the site. The teens parcel is filled with a jumble of concrete building foundations covering underground infrastructure — some of it unknown — that is expensive to remove.
If the project receives approval, Walmart would relocate its current Pittsfield store and all of its 200 employees from the Berkshire Crossing Shopping Center on Hubbard Avenue to the Stanley Business Park, said Waterstone Principal Anton Melchionda.
The second largest real estate owner in New England, Waterstone also said it plans to pursue additional parcels outside of the Stanley Business Park "where appropriate" to accommodate those additional uses.
Walmart leases its Hubbard Avenue store from Berkshire Crossing's owner, Brixmor Property Group of New York City. It referred questions on the possible re-use of its current store to Brixmor, but stated that in recent relocations, including the opening of Walmart's Supercenter in North Adams, the company has worked with the landlord to transition the site to a new tenant within weeks.
PEDA's board met in executive session after Wednesday's presentation and voted unanimously to approve a letter of intent that will allow Waterstone to pursue the development of the site. The letter of intent gives Waterstone an exclusive 60-day window to work out a potential lease/purchase agreement for the teens' parcel.
"It's pretty straightforward from PEDA's perspective," Executive Director Corey Thurston said after Wednesday's meeting. "The board wants them to have the opportunity to make their pitch and make their sale."
PEDA is the quasi-public agency charged with overseeing the business park's development.
Thurston described the proposal as a "heck of a deal" for PEDA and the city, and that people need to view the idea from the "global picture" not a "narrow development" perspective.
"Some of economic development in jobs is retention," Thurston said.
"They have spent a lot of time searching for available parcels," he said, "but really haven't found anything that approaches that site."
In a statement, Pittsfield Mayor Linda M. Tyer said she welcomes any developer who expresses an interest in locating a business in Pittsfield.
"I believe strongly in the right to a due process concerning proposed business development," she said, referring to the process that can take place under the letter of intent. "This applies to the Waterstone Retail Development proposal."
If the project is completed, PEDA would sell the teens parcel to Waterstone, Thurston said. PEDA would receive slightly more than $1 million for that parcel based on the cost per acre, he added.
The city is also trying to spark development in the surrounding Morningside area, one of Pittsfield's poorest neighborhoods.
"We're hoping that it will be a catalyst for businesses to pop up on Tyler Street," said Diane Marcella, who heads the Tyler Street Business Group.
"No. 1, they're going to fix the teens site, which is going to cost someone more than $1 million [in remediation costs]," she said. Waterstone also is willing to replace the existing stormwater drainage system at the teens complex that is subject to new federal regulations with a new one.
"They're going to take care of it, and it won't cost the taxpayers a thing," Marcella said. "That's huge.
"No. 2, it solves a lot of the issues that we have in the neighborhood," she said.
Due to Morningside's demographics, Marcella said the goal is to improve residents' ability to walk to places where they can shop.
"This area has never had a supermarket. We've actually been determined to be a food desert," Marcella said, referring to an industry term for neighborhoods that do not have easy access to markets that sell fresh produce.
"The walkability will take care of the food desert situation that we have," she said.
Tyler Street isn't far from the commercial businesses located in downtown Pittsfield. But Jonathan Butler, vice president and chief operating officer of 1Berkshire, said his organization would need more information about the proposal before commenting on how it would affect the downtown commercial corridor. 1Berkshire, which provides business assistance and economic development support, is planning to speak with Waterstone next week, he said.
"I'm eager to hear from Waterstone and what they're thinking about before we take a position on it or weigh the pros and cons," he said.
Waterstone's portfolio includes 50 properties in nine states totaling 3.8 million square feet of space. The company has another 1 million square feet under development, according to its website.
This is the third time in five years under three different city administrations that Waterstone has proposed a retail development at this same site. The first proposal, in 2011, called for the creation of a 170,000-square-foot multi-tenant shopping center. The second proposal, in 2013, consisted of a 200,000-square-foot building occupied by a single tenant.
Walmart was the preferred tenant in both previous proposals, but it didn't allow its name to be used publicly until now, Melchionda said.
Walmart has maintained interest in the Stanley Business Park parcel because the teens site will bring the retail giant's business at Berkshire Crossing "inbound to the population," said Don Harr of Atlantic Retail Properties in Needham.
"The site has access to the highest amount of combined traffic counts in the region," including direct access to 40,000 cars per day, Harr said. "It will be more convenient to the densest part of the population."
Waterstone's first proposal fell apart when Walmart halted its national expansion plans due to the faltering economy. The second project fizzled out after Waterstone failed to obtain a letter of intent from PEDA.
There also was significant public opposition to the project three years ago. With industrial-zoned land in the city now at a premium, many people were opposed to putting a retail complex on land that is zoned specifically for industry. Retail is not one of the uses originally slated for the Stanley Business Park.
However, Thurston said talks between Waterstone and PEDA have continued over the last three years. The developers have spoken with local business leaders since then about the project, Harr said.
Waterstone also hired a public relations firm to gauge the public's interest before deciding to go ahead with a third proposal, Harr said.
Of the 400 randomly sampled city residents who were contacted in late February, 95 percent wanted the Stanley Business Park developed, 82 percent supported a large retail box store followed by mixed development on the site, and 75 percent supported large retail being located near the downtown area instead of a mall, said Al Maiorino of Boston-based Public Strategy Group, which did the polling.
"These numbers were by far the strongest I've seen in 20 years on economic development," Maiorino said.
A survey of Walmart customers' ZIP codes showed Pittsfield residents have been spending $5 million on Walmarts outside of the city, including supercenters in North Adams and Chicopee.
To further engage the public, Waterstone Retail Development is holding an informal Community Open House event from 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, June 28, at Hotel on North.
Tyer said she welcomes different perspectives on the project from city residents as the proposal makes its way through the approval process.
"As it has in the past, we know that the proposed development will lend itself to a spectrum of varying and staunch perspectives about the nature of development and its place in Pittsfield," she said. "This too, is a part of the process."
She asked city residents to approach Waterstone's third proposal with an open mind.
"It is important to realize that while it's really easy to say no without further discussion, it's often harder to engage in dialog that challenges us to consider positions other than our own," she said.
"Is there a way to establish a finished product that not only works for the developer but the neighborhood and landscape as well?" Tyer said. "(It is) just one of the many questions that is tantamount to this conversation."
Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413-496-6224.