Our Opinion: Past time to move beyond the Mall

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The Berkshire Mall may be near the end of a lengthy deathbed scene to rival any seen on stage or screen. Many ideas have been floated as to what comes next for the 730,000-square-foot structure, but none can be explored until the mall's slow decline finally comes to an end.

Visitors to the main entrance Tuesday were greeted by a metal gate near the freestanding Target store denying entry beyond the Regal Cinemas lobby. A sign announced that the mall was closed. Owner Michael Kohan, principal of the Kohan Investment Group, told The Eagle on Tuesday that the future of the mall would be determined after discussions with remaining tenants.

The Berkshire Mall has long since lost the critical mass necessary for success. The anchor chain stores have departed and the small remaining stores have been slowly disappearing, with Foot Locker the latest this past month. There would appear to be little incentive for the three of four remaining stores, deprived of foot traffic and never certain from day to day if the mall will be open, to remain in less than splendid isolation in the nearly empty structure. There would appear to be little incentive for Mr. Kohan to continue to operate the mall given the high cost of utilities he is paying to keep the lights on for the remaining tenants. Mr. Kohan is also a year late in paying taxes to the town of Lanesborough and to the Baker Hill Road District in Lanesborough, with bills totaling roughly $900,000.

The Baker Hill Road District, which has legal jurisdiction over the mall's seven parcels, has aggressively pursued money owed to it by the owner in the courts. Two years ago, when the mall was well into its financial struggles, the district was given legislative approval to purchase the mall. It was hoped this would have happened before now.

The mall, which opened in 1987 when malls were at the center of the retail marketplace, has been an important economic engine for Lanesborough. Among the ideas for its future use, some of them explored by owners of malls elsewhere in the Northeast, include entertainment, affordable and/or elderly housing, office space, a regional school and indoor agriculture, such as the growing of marijuana.

What has happened to the Berkshire Mall is certainly not unique. The advent of online retail sales and the shift of stores that moved from downtowns to malls back to downtowns have decimated malls all over the country. They leave behind not only massive structures but acres of empty parking lots. All of the concepts for the Berkshire Mall going forward have potential and more may arise, but while malls elsewhere have been retrofitted, the Berkshire Mall continues to dangle in limbo. However this ends, it needs to end soon, so whatever comes next can begin to move from the talking stage into reality.

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