Development plans for ex-Price Chopper space in Lee include food market, market-rate apartments

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LEE — A Lenox-based developer wants to bring back grocery shopping to downtown Lee.

Benchmark Development is working on plans for a residential/commercial project that would include a food market on the site of the former Price Chopper that closed last summer. The sudden closing caught Lee residents off guard, leaving them without a supermarket within walking distance of downtown.

"We have programmed into our plan a village market. It's kind of a critical component we're building around," Michael Charles said in an Eagle interview.

Charles and Brian Cohan are the Benchmark principals also spearheading the Powerhouse Square development on Bridge Street in downtown Great Barrington. The estimated $15 million project would include an expanded Berkshire Co-op Market as its anchor, along with condominiums.

Charles said it is too soon to give a cost estimate for demolishing the Price Chopper building and erecting what more than likely would be a multiple-story building with apartments to complement the retail space.

"I think the town can use market-rate rental properties," he said.

Charles and Golub Corp., Price Chopper's corporate parent, confirmed that Benchmark has a purchase and sale agreement to buy the West Park Street property, with access from Main Street, that sits along the Housatonic River.

Once the developers complete initial plans, they plan to engage town officials in conversation about the project in late summer or early fall and eventually make a formal proposal to the municipality.

Golub immediately began looking for a buyer or someone to lease the Lee store after the Schenectady, N.Y.-based grocer shuttered it July 29. The Lee store had been open for 45 years.

The closure came with three weeks' notice, leaving the downtown without a grocery story.

At the time, town officials and many residents were stunned by the announcement. Price Chopper proceeded to gut the building of all its fixtures. In November, the regional grocer further alienated townspeople by placing six large concrete blocks at the property's West Park Street entrance/exit. This was an outlet for drivers cutting through the private property, via the post office on Consolati Way.

Price Chopper was the only grocer within walking distance of downtown, including the Hyde Place, Crossway Village and Brown Memorial Court housing projects, where many senior citizens live.

Lee's lone supermarket, Big Y, is located near Exit 2 of the Massachusetts Turnpike, a mile from downtown.

Charles believes that his firm's vision will fill a void created by Price Chopper leaving Lee.

"There's sort of a hole in the fabric of Main Street," he said. "We have what we think is a sound concept for the downtown."

Price Chopper's closing of its Lee store continued a corporate plan to phase out smaller stores in favor of larger stores rebranded as Market 32.

The Lee and North Adams markets — the latter closed in February 2016 — were far smaller in physical size than Price Chopper's three remaining Berkshire stores.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6233.


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