Our Opinion: Something has to give with Berkshire Mall

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Owner Michael Kohan's acknowledgment that the Berkshire Mall is struggling does not constitute news. Plagued by the departure of retailers large and small, the mall has been struggling for some time and there is no reason to believe that will change for the better. The questions are, what comes next for the mall and when will that come?

The mall is behind on its real estate taxes, as it was this time a year ago (Eagle, Dec. 29). In June, Mr. Kohan borrowed nearly $1 million to pay fiscal year 2018 taxes, staving off an effort by the Baker Hill Road District, home to seven parcels owned by the Kohan Retail Investment Group, to take over management of the property. Earlier this month, the district, which has expressed interest in buying the mall, increased the pressure on Mr. Kohan by winning a judgment in Berkshire Superior Court to attach a debt of $276,000 to the mall's property on the grounds that there was a reasonable likelihood that its claim for unpaid taxes and interest would prevail in court.

Mr. Kohan told The Eagle's Larry Parnass that he was "not trying to make a hard time for anybody." The reality, however, is that he is creating difficulty for the Baker Hill Road District and the town of Lanesborough, which also must chase after payments. Mr. Kohan surely gets no more satisfaction out of this process than he gets significant revenue out of his mall, but as long as he owns the mall this unfortunate situation will continue.

Mr. Kohan is certainly not alone in his plight as malls are struggling throughout Massachusetts, New England and the Northeast. The combination of online retail sales and the shift of retailers from malls to the downtowns from whence they came is crippling malls financially. The difference is that so many malls throughout the region are reinventing themselves while the Berkshire Mall remains mired in the status quo.

Malls have reinvented themselves as entertainment centers. Others have been renovated to accommodate office space and elderly housing. An article in the Dec. 28 Boston Globe demonstrated how floundering malls in and around Boston are reviving themselves through housing, elderly and otherwise. The Ohio-based owners of the 77-acre Hanover Mall don't want to renovate it they want to tear it down and replace it with a large apartment complex surrounded by stores catering to the renters. The South Bay Center in Dorchester won't be torn down but developers want to add an apartment complex where a largely empty parking lot now exists. The Cambridgeside Galleria plans to put offices into its now empty top floor. Ironically, the strategy of bringing offices, apartments, restaurants and increased foot traffic into the malls is the same strategy already being employed by many downtowns, including Pittsfield's North Street, to bring people back to inner cities.

Unfortunately, the Berkshire Mall's rural isolation would make it difficult for new owners to follow the strategies employed by mall owners in suburban or urban areas. Apartment dwellers, for example, often rely on public transportation. But something has to happen with the Berkshire Mall. If an updated version of the Eagle's Dec. 28, 2018 story appears in the Eagle on Dec. 28, 2019, then a year in which solutions should have been explored and ideally implemented will have been wasted.

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