Baker Hill Road District wants to be able to buy the Berkshire Mall - new bill would let them

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LANESBOROUGH The entity charged with maintaining the Berkshire Mall's roadway is taking steps that would allow it to someday own the entire mall.

The Baker Hill Road District is asking the state to amend its bylaws and allow it to own and maintain real estate, said Baker Hill's attorney Mark W. Siegers.

Under proposed legislation in the state House of Representatives. the road district would be able to purchase, lease or be a partner to Berkshire County's largest retail shopping complex if the property became available, according to Siegers.

The Lanesborough Select Board unanimously endorsed the bill on Tuesday following a brief overview from district officials. A Statehouse hearing on the matter is scheduled for next week.

The mall has been struggling financially for several years, and has lost three of its five anchor stores over the last 18 months. The latest anchor, J.C. Penney, announced on Friday that it planned to close the store it has operated in the mall for 29 years on June 18.

Kohan Retail Investment Group of New York became the mall's third owner in three years when it purchased the complex for $3.5 million in September.

The Baker Hill Road District is interested in owning one of the town's most highly assessed properties before the site loses its value, Siegers said. The district had offered to buy the property from the Dallas-based real estate investment trust that sold the shopping center to Kohan Retail Investment Group in 2013.

"It doesn't want to find itself in the same position a lot of public entities have found themselves in when they have no control over property that vastly decreases in value and becomes neglected," Siegers said. "It doesn't want to find itself in the same position that the city of Pittsfield was in when GE left. The same thing happened in North Adams."

The Baker Hill Road District was created by state legislation in 1989 to build and maintain the road that leads to the mall from routes 7 and 8 as a public way. That task is currently the district's sole legal obligation.

"Once we have the authority we can act," Siegers said. "You know the expression that it gives us another arrow in the quiver? That's all this is. We want to move without delay should the opportunity arise.

"We can't get involved in real estate," Siegers said. "It has to be added to the purpose of the act."

The bonds that were floated to form the district in 1988 absolve the town of any legal responsibility to maintain the mall road. If the legislation that created the road district is amended and district purchased the mall, the district, not the town, would be financially responsible for mall itself, Siegers said.

"If the road district buys the mall it doesn't become a financial obligation to the town," he said.

The district can raise up to $10 million based on its ability to raise funds to maintain the road, Siegers said.

It's too early to talk about the plans the district has for the property, he said.

"What we're really hoping is that once we get control of the property, someone we've approached in the past would still want to participate in redeveloping the mall," Siegers said. "Quite honestly, we're looking at [multiple] uses there. We're not looking at it being the retail center of the county anymore."

Reach Business Editor Tony Dobrowolski at 413 496-6224.


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