Firms studying potential future uses for Berkshire Mall

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LANESBOROUGH — Two New England engineering firms are teaming up toward planning potential uses for the struggling Berkshire Mall.

The Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, on behalf of the town, has hired Milone & MacBroom from Portland, Maine, who will partner with EDM Services in Pittsfield, to assess the mall's physical health and prepare a future-use study for the shopping complex.

Laura Brennan, BRPC senior planner for community and economic development, told The Eagle that the review could include recent infrastructure problems at the mall. Since January, the 720,000-square-foot complex has had several unexplained power outages, forcing the mall to close a day or two at a time until electricity service was restored.

Reviewing the mall's physical plant is the first crucial step in the BRPC's 18-month, $70,000 study that begin this past winter of how the mall could be revitalized — whether privately or publicly owned. A final report is expected by the end of summer 2019.

"This is a research effort; there's no directive coming from us, no matter who owns the mall," Brennan told the Lanesborough Select Board on Monday night.

Brennan was updating the board on the status of the study funded by a $50,000 state grant and $20,000 from the Baker Hill Road District. The district was created by state legislation in 1989, two years after the mall opened, to build and maintain the road that leads to the mall from Routes 7 and 8 as a public way.

This spring, the legislation was amended to allow the district made up of town officials and private residents to buy the mall, provided that the current owner is willing to sell. Under the amended legislation, the district, not the town, would be financially responsible for owning the mall.

The district committee is holding off on whether to make an offer, until after the BRPC issues its report a year from now.

Redeveloping the mall is a high priority for taxpayers as well as town officials. The results of a community survey released in February found 74 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the mall's future was key to boosting Lanesborough's economy.

In early fall, according to Brennan, the BRPC will schedule a community meeting for feedback on future uses for the mall. Additional, smaller focus groups might be convened in late fall and winter.

The BRPC also will examine relevant zoning and other regulatory changes necessary for new uses, as well as evaluate existing physical and infrastructure conditions that could impact the mall's redevelopment.

In a separate but parallel collaboration, Brennan heads the town's effort to better promote the community's economic assets and natural resources. The aforementioned survey found that at least 75 percent of townspeople agreed/strongly agreed that the town can better market its natural features and promote more agribusiness.

Since the survey's release, the BRPC has organized three meet-and-greet gatherings of local business owners and residents, distributed thousands of flyers throughout the Berkshires promoting the town and listed an extensive Lanesborough business directory in the 2017 Annual Town Report published this spring.

"[The directory] has come in handy; I've used it a couple of times myself," said Selectman Robert Erickson.

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


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