The 5 futures: Proposed Berkshire Mall plans

An aerial view of the Berkshire Mall in Lanesborough in September 2019.

PITTSFIELD — Two years after buying the Berkshire Mall, an Ohio man reportedly is poised to let an outside management company try to bring the moribund property back to life.

The point person in the effort, Christina Castaneda, said an agreement with the mall’s owner is expected to assign operations and management control of the Berkshire Mall to Bedi & Associates LLC.

“We are in the middle of a transition right now,” she said in an interview from her home in Michigan.

Castaneda works under contract for Bedi & Associates and personally is leading efforts to redevelop another mall owned by Durga Property Holdings of Cincinnati, in southwestern Michigan.

Castaneda said she plans regular trips to Lanesborough in the weeks ahead and has launched a new social media presence for the Berkshire Mall. That Facebook page, “Berkshire Mall: The ReOpening,” has more than 400 followers.

Berkshire Mall entrance Facebook

In a recent Facebook post, Christina Castaneda described efforts to bring life back to the Berkshire Mall. “We all know there’s a lot to be accomplished and we’re up for the challenge. We’re looking forward to making the mall property useful to the community again,” she wrote.

“I’m working directly with the owners of the property to get the mall repaired and back in operation,” Castaneda said in a July 28 post. “We all know there’s a lot to be accomplished and we’re up for the challenge. We’re looking forward to making the mall property useful to the community again.”

Castaneda said she has spoken with a national company that runs family-friendly activities, such as mini golf, rock wall climbing and bumper cars, in large, former retail spaces. The mall might seek to develop similar recreational ventures on its own.

“We are planning on making Lanesborough an entertainment destination,” Castaneda said.

Though Durga would remain the mall’s owner under the agreement, Bedi & Associates would recruit investors to cover the cost of some physical improvements needed to win back tenants and customers, she said.

Castaneda said the agreement with Durga’s owner, Vijaya Kumar Vemulapalli, could be signed within two weeks. That pact would give the management company for whom she works latitude to move more nimbly to recruit businesses. The mall closed in 2019, after a steady loss of tenants.

Target and the Regal Cinemas continue to operate on independently owned parcels in Lanesborough.

Castaneda also is working to revive the Orchards Mall in Benton Harbor, Mich., through her work with Bedi & Associates. That Michigan mall and the Berkshire Mall previously had been owned by Mehran Kohansieh.

Kohansieh, also known as Mike Kohan, bought the Lanesborough mall for $3.5 million in 2016 and sold it to Durga in 2019 for $1 million.

In 2019, The Eagle visited the Michigan mall and spoke to tenants about life in a failing retail destination.

Since joining the Michigan project in July 2020, Castaneda said, she has recruited more than 18 tenants. Plans call for unused areas of the Michigan mall to be transformed into apartments and a hotel. Construction was supposed to begin in April, according to a local TV report, but has not yet started, Castaneda said Tuesday.

After touring the Lanesborough mall, and looking through papers in its office, Castaneda said she is aware that restarting activity won’t be easy. A post on the new Facebook page celebrates recent landscaping near the entrance close to Target.

“There’s a lot of work to be done,” she said Tuesday. “There’s no way I would invite people in with the state it is in now.”

Along with cosmetic improvements, Castaneda said, she will make it a priority to recruit a restaurant to return to the property.

“It’s all about making it usable,” she said.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com and 413-588-8341.

Investigations editor

Larry Parnass joined The Eagle in 2016 from the Daily Hampshire Gazette, where he was editor in chief. His freelance work has appeared in the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Hartford Courant, CommonWealth Magazine and with the Reuters news service.