Walmart backs out of Pittsfield supercenter plan, but developer still in

A 16-acre site at the William Stanley Business Park in Pittsfield will not be the site of a Walmart Supercenter, but a developer remains committed to bringing in a large-scale retail project.

PITTSFIELD — A Walmart Supercenter is off the table, but a developer working on the project remains committed to building a large-scale retail project at the William Stanley Business Park.

A representative for Needham-based Waterstone Properties confirmed on Wednesday that a business deal with Walmart fell through as "a direct result of the amount of time that has passed."

The developer in June 2016 announced plans to build a 200,000-square-foot Walmart Supercenter that would replace the existing Walmart store in Berkshire Crossing shopping center on Hubbard Avenue.

Waterstone filed formal plans with the city on Monday for what appeared to be that Walmart Supercenter on the site along Woodlawn Avenue.

But a day later, a representative for Walmart told The Eagle it has had a change of heart.

"Waterstone's decision to proceed with entitlement is their decision," the statement from Walmart read, "however at the current time we no longer plan to relocate our store in Pittsfield."

Anton Melchionda, a partner at Waterstone Properties, told The Eagle on Wednesday that Walmart was named in the documents filed Monday merely as "a placeholder."

He said he and his business partners are too far invested — financially and otherwise — in the project to see it fall by the wayside.

Melchionda said he's confident Waterstone will find other retailers to occupy a shopping center at the business park.

"We are moving forward," he said. "We have relationships with hundreds of national retailers. We have a tremendous amount of traction, tremendous amount of interest from those retail clients about relocating to this property. We will develop this project."

When Waterstone announced the $30 million proposal to build the Walmart Supercenter in June 2016, it marked the third time in six years the developer proposed constructing a big box retail store at the park's 16.5-acre "teens" parcel, the largest of the park's nine building spots.

The project was expected to bring about 100 new jobs and provide approximately $550,000 in tax revenue.

While the announcement was welcomed by some in the community as an opportunity to develop the long vacant parcel, others were less than enthusiastic. Some opponents believed Walmart can't offer quality jobs and would hurt small-business owners, and others hoped to see the parcel used for manufacturing purposes.

Retail was not one of the uses originally specified for the 52-acre business park, which consists of industrially zoned land that was formerly part of General Electric's power transformer facility.

By mutual agreement, GE left a series of concrete building foundations on the teens' parcel before that site was turned over to the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority in 2012. Officials originally thought that leaving those foundations in place would make that parcel easier to build on, but preparing that site for new development will now cost an estimated $10 million to $12 million. 

PEDA board Chairman Mick Callahan said the authority does not intend to do that work, and so it would be inherited by any developer seeking to build on the parcel. 

Melchionda said he's committed to the project. Although the architectural documents filed Monday have Walmart's name all over them, he said, site plans are subject to change and he has no plans to withdraw them. 

"I'm just clarifying the confusion," he said.

The site plan filed on Monday went so far as to specify the height and width of the several Walmart signs that would grace the property.

It remains unclear whether the city would be able to process the site plan as filed.

Deanna Ruffer, the city's director of community development and the point person on the project, could not be reached for comment.

Callahan said he's pleased to see a prospective developer moving forward.

"They're interested in investing in our community — that's very positive," he said. "PEDA looks forward to seeing what their redesign looks like and what their tenant mix looks like." 

He said developers these days have to think on their toes in order to survive in a volatile retail industry, referencing the beleaguered Berkshire Mall that will soon be down to one sole anchor store. 

"Developers today have to have a lot of options to handle the changes in the retail landscape," he said. 

Jonathan Butler, CEO of 1Berkshire, said what comes from the proposed development could be "potentially exciting," depending on which retailers Waterstone is able to rope in. 

"We're curious to see what other stakeholders Waterstone may be working with," he said, adding that from the city's side, "it's tough to approve something without knowing what the outcome is going to be." 

Butler said 1Berkshire, the county's leading economic development agency, has been waiting to see formal plans before taking a position on the project, and that hasn't changed. 

"Hopefully whatever the next version of this plan is, it's favorable to the city," he said. "It's really just the beginning of a process." 

Reach Amanda Drane at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane or at 413-496-6296.