LANESBOROUGH — An offer designed to save the town’s taxpayers money could lead to a once-unthinkable odd-couple pairing of tenants under one roof at the Berkshire Mall: cannabis and cops.
The new owners of the mall property say they will sell or lease to the town plenty of space in its sprawling building for a new police and EMT/ambulance operation.
The proposal comes at a time town voters are considering a proposal to build a $5.9 million public safety station on the former Skyline Country Club driving range.
Blake Mensing, representing JMJ Holdings, made the offer in a letter addressed to the Select Board and residents. In the letter, which arrived Wednesday, he noted that in the town’s needs assessment, the new building would require 7,560 square feet of internal space.
“The one thing we have at the Berkshire Mall is space,” Mensing wrote. “We have nearly 590,000 square feet of internal space sitting on a total of 86 acres and we would be thrilled to help the Town minimize the burden to taxpayers by offering market rate rent, or even a unit purchase if the town so desires.”
He wrote that he is confident “that the cost of retrofitting portions of the Mall to satisfy the needs of the Police/EMS Facility would be far lower than the $5.9 million total.”
Built in 1988, the Berkshire Mall closed in 2019, though the Target store continues to operate in an anchor space that it owns. After a series a transactions, the new ownership group purchased the mall property for $8 million in July 2022.
Mensing and his partners have proposed using the former mall as a cannabis-cultivation center by leasing space to growers who would sell their product wholesale to cannabis shops in the state. They plan to transform old stores into a network of indoor cannabis minifarms for cannabis cultivation by other parties who lease the space.
Town Administrator Gina Dario said officials haven’t had time to consider the ramifications of the proposal. Select Board Chairman John Goerlach did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
On November 8, 2016, voters approved Question 4, the ballot initiative that ended cannabis prohibition for adults 21 and older. Cannabis became legal for adults to grow and possess in Massachusetts on December 15, 2016. Before then, marijuana users and police officers were on opposite sides of the law.
The 9-acre parcel at Skyline, 405 South Main St., was judged a suitable location for the building by the Police Building Committee. It would house the town’s Police Department, its vehicles and other equipment. It would also house the ambulance/EMS staff, equipment and vehicles.
The majority of the $5.9 million cost could be raised through an increase in property taxes that would be subject to voter approval. Property owners would pay an estimated $45.80 per $100,000 of assessed property value annually to cover the cost.
Dario said the Select Board members probably will give Mensing’s proposal consideration at their next opportunity.
“If the Mall ends up being the new home of the Police/EMS Facility, we believe that it would benefit the Town, its citizens, and in full transparency, it would also benefit our proposed operations by minimizing the already-low likelihood that our operations would become a target for criminals,” Mensing’s letter concluded. “We would welcome a discussion on what renting or buying space in the Mall might look like and we hope that you and the citizens of Lanesborough see things the same way.”