Mysteries from the Morgue: Did developers originally propose building the Berkshire Mall in North Adams?
Before ground was broken in Lanesborough, the Berkshire Mall was proposed for several locations in Pittsfield, and its developers even talked with Lenox officials about a possible site. But long before Pyramid Companies or its predecessors began talking about building a mall on North Street, the name Berkshire Mall was attached to a plan in North Adams.
In 1964, Myron M. Hunt, a real estate developer from Adams-Goodrich-Hunt in Buffalo, N.Y., announced he would build an enclosed shopping center on Curran Highway in North Adams. The Berkshire Mall, as he called it, would have a 70,000-square-foot J.C. Penny's, an A&P supermarket, an F. W. Woolworth, a "well-known New England hardware store" and at least 15 specialty shops all connected by an inner corridor. The parking lot was to hold 1,300 cars.
Hunt said he would break ground on the 20-acre site, located across from Pedrin's Dairy Bar and Valley Park Lanes (to the north of the current Walmart Supercenter) during the summer of 1965. Concerns about the ability to supply water and sewer to the site, raised by the head of the city's Department of Public Works, helped stymie the mall's progress. Announcement of plans for a 30-tenant mall, by a New Haven, Conn. developer, on a 25-acre site on Curran Highway, near the Adams town line, also didn't help Hunt's progress. That project, estimated to cost $2.5 million, would never advance past the announcement.
In February 1970, Hunt told the North Adams Transcript the only thing preventing the construction of the Berkshire Mall was high-interest rates. (Hunt's mall in North Adams never came to fruition and the land remains undeveloped. However, the failed mall proposal was only a blip in his illustrious career, which included developing more than 3 million square feet of retail shopping center space in upstate New York and Vermont.)
But Hunt's project wasn't the only one being shopped around with the Berkshire Mall name at the time. In June 1967, J. Alan Ornstein was busy promoting plans for a 750,000-square-foot shopping center, named the Berkshire Mall. Ornstein's project, later known as the Berkshire Forum, called for the shopping center to be built in Pittsfield's Jubilee Urban Renewal Project area, along the West Street corridor.
Ornstein's project was the first of several to bear the name "Berkshire Mall." It was followed by a proposal by developer George H. Nutman and other numerous developers until the Syracuse, N.Y.-based Pyramid Companies seemed to have a winning formula. The plan would have replaced the west side of North Street, between Columbus Avenue and West Street with a $100 million Berkshire Mall. But the plans fell short in 1980 when Pittsfield Mayor Charles L. Smith refused to sign a $14.2 million grant to leverage the proposed mall. Nine months later, he pulled the plug on the project entirely.
Pyramid did not give up, looking at both Lenox and North Adams as viable locations before selecting Lanesborough as the site of the $57 million, 550,000-square-foot Berkshire Mall.
The Berkshire Mall, which opened on Sept. 22, 1988, was plagued from the start by problems including construction stoppages, denied work permits and heavy fines. Poised to open on March 2, the mall's opening was delayed by several factors including a lack of water or sewer at the site and Pyramid's failure to obtain permits from the state Department of Environmental Protection to build its main entrance over an existing wetland.
During the six-month delay, Filene's, one of the original four anchor stores, abandoned its plans to open and was replaced by Steiger's department store. When the mall finally opened, its occupancy rate hovered around 75 percent and several of its tenants, including two of its four anchor department stores, Sears and Steiger's had yet to move in. (Hills and J.C. Penny's opened with the mall. A fifth anchor store, Service Merchandise, was added in 1989.)
Sources: Berkshire Eagle, North Adams Transcript, Boston Globe.
Jennifer Huberdeau can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org, at @BE_DigitalJen on Twitter and at 413-496-6229.
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