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Natick Mall

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Mall adds condos to proposed expansion

Lack of lower-cost units is questioned

By Alison O'Leary Murray, Globe Correspondent, 2/8/2004

When Natick officials begin formal discussions Wednesday about a massive expansion proposed for the Natick Mall, the long-anticipated plans will look much different than they did a year ago.

Mall officials have backed away from plans to add a hotel as part of a 565,000-square-foot expansion, which promises to add a wing of upscale shops on the former Wonder Bread site on Speen Street. Instead, they are proposing 250 apartments or condominiums in two eight-story towers.

But while the mall has historically enjoyed a positive relationship with the town and the expansion is expected to bring a windfall in property taxes when it is complete, town officials are concerned about a lack of affordable housing in the proposal. Currently, none of the residential units planned for the site are slated to be offered at less than market rate.

Planning Board member Robert Eisenmenger, who will chair hearings on the expansion beginning this week, does not see a way around the issue.

''We have jumped through hoops for them," Eisenmenger said. ''If they add housing, some of it really has to be affordable."

The plans have been expected for a year, a period that a representative for the mall's parent company, General Growth Properties Inc., said was necessary to develop the project and negotiate with existing tenants of the Natick Mall. Natick will be the third location, after Virginia and Hawaii, where the company has created a similar combination of residences and retail.

''This is pretty exciting. This would provide a built-in clientele for our retailers and less transportation impact," said James Grant, General Growth's vice president for development, who hopes to see the new stores open by 2006.

Grant said that condos were not in the original plan, but that the hotel proposal lost its luster due to a declining market for lodging in the area. Developers approached General Growth about residential towers, he said, adding that a hotel is no longer under consideration.

As for the town's concerns about affordable housing, Grant said, ''There is a lot of discussion going on with the town on that issue . . . a lot of negotiating. You'll have to come to the hearing to see how it works out."

Natick's director of assessing, William Chenard, said the tax benefits of the project may exceed the revenue created by the mall's mid-1990s wholesale renovation, proceeds of which allowed the town to reconstruct many municipal facilities. The housing component currently proposed will add even more to town coffers. Chenard estimated that each $500,000 condominium will pay about $5,200 in taxes each year. (This fiscal year the mall will contribute about $2.2 million in taxes.)

''The residential condominium market in Natick is on fire right now," he said, noting that the values of such units is appreciating 20 percent a year.

Planning Board member Julian Munnich struck a cautionary note, suggesting that a hot market now might leave the town with a white elephant in the future.

''My interest is, how will this impact the rest of the town?" Munnich said. ''Ten years from now, would it be a value to the community, or even to itself?"

Other town officials are also grappling with the huge project, which is likely to occupy the Planning Board for months. The Building Department is hiring a new inspector to lighten the load for other inspectors involved in the mall project. And affordable housing is on the minds of many.

''The [mall] proposal raises a lot of questions for us," said Natick's community development director, Sarkis Sarkisian. ''You can't just add 250 condominiums with no affordable component."

Sarkisian said doing so would significantly hamper Natick's ability to reach a state mandate that 10 percent of a community's housing stock be available at below-market rates.

Natick is at about 5 percent and needs about 600 more affordable units to reach the 10 percent goal. Sarkisian said it is important for Natick to continue working on all bylaws affecting housing, to develop a comprehensive plan, because the demand is so strong right now.

One way the mall developer can get around potentially restrictive town bylaws is filing the proposal under Chapter 40B, the state's affordable housing law, under which a developer can sidestep local zoning rules in exchange for making a quarter of the units affordable.

Residential units are allowed at the site under a bylaw approved by Special Town Meeting in 2002 that was specifically written to allow the mall to expand. But the measure said nothing about affordable housing, and Sarkisian said it is possible that the town would ask voters to amend the bylaw to require some below-market-rate units.

Despite the town's concerns, Sarkisian noted that the mall's residential development plan meshes well with the latest state directives for redevelopment, additional housing, and increased density.

''Not one single tree has to come down for this development," Sarkisian said. ''It's hard to argue with that."

From The Boston Globe

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Is an 8 story building really a tower. I don't think so.

In Natick...

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In Natick...

In Natick...I agree, but "tower" is kinda stretching it. Are there any renderings, C?

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Are there any renderings, C?

Not any worth posting, just a litle thumbnail that shows nothing of substance I dug up. Here's some more articles though.

Natick Mall designs unique

By Sarah MacDonald / News Staff Writer

Friday, June 25, 2004

NATICK -- With just months left before builders hope to break ground, the Natick Mall expansion project is beginning to take shape.

And what a unique shape it is.

Preliminary architectural drawings show tall, conical glass entrances and concrete berm that will rise and fall like rolling hills. An all-glass restaurant sits above a tunnel and one restaurant will have an outside eating deck.

Mall architect Richard Blinder, of New York-based Beyer Blinder Belle, detailed "soft, curvilinear forms" and "undulating edges" at a Planning Board meeting Wednesday.

The "light cones," situated at every major entrance, will become a symbol of the mall, Blinder said.

The feature may the first of its kind in the area, he said.

Some town officials said the unique designs are welcome.

"The world is full of square and block malls," said Planning Board member Julian Munnich. "There is value to not having more boxes."

Mall owners General Growth Properties hope to add 500,000 square feet of shopping and residential space to the 1.2 million-square-foot mall. Pending Planning Board approval, the former Wonder Bread factory will be demolished later this summer to make way for construction.

As designers focus on the expansion, the existing Natick Mall will also get an aesthetic upgrade.

While the existing building will remain almost untouched, it may be just a little harder to spot from local roads. Landscape designers have proposed transplanting a dozen mature pine trees from the demolition site to the Rte. 9 side of the mall.

Residents and town officials have long grumbled about inadequate screening of the parking garage at Rte. 9 and Speen Street. The town is looking into whether trees could be planted in the Rte. 9 median strip, which is controlled by the state highway department, to further spruce up the area.

Inside the property, parking decks will be reconfigured with more landscaped islands and improved pedestrian crossings.

Two small parks will line the center of the mall complex, where engineers have proposed a new roundabout.

"(The parks) will really be the jewel of the space," said town landscape consultant Steve Cosmos. "It's going to be a lot nicer than it is today. This should look great."

Planning officials are still pushing for a few design changes, including rounding the building's corners and keeping light pollution down, but appreciate the opportunity to improve the mall.

"It would be exciting for us to go a step beyond the standard and to take it beyond the ordinary," Munnich said.

From MetroWest Daily News

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Mall eyed as hub for buses

By Sarah MacDonald / News Staff Writer

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

NATICK -- While Natick Mall officials hope an expansion will make Natick the area's premiere shopping destination, local planning officials are hoping for something more.

The mall, poised to add dozens of high-end stores in a 500,000-square-foot addition, may soon become a public transportation hub complete with underground bus concourse.

Officials say the new transportation concourse could revolutionize how people get to and from local shopping centers and elsewhere.

While details of the new Flutie Pass bus stop have not been worked out, officials are asking architects to design an underground concourse that will lure shoppers out of their cars and onto a bus.

"We want this to be an example, not only to Natick but to the region, that we are committed to public transportation," said Sarkis Sarkisian, Natick's development director. "We've got to make it so people will use it."

Suggestions range from comfortable benches and a community bulletin board to an underground coffee shop and police substation.

"There's got to be a reason you'd go there. If it were lonely and desolate, it would be avoided," said John Stasik, chairman of the MetroWest Growth Management Committee's transportation task force.

Stasik said the plan could be the beginning of a regional transit system, since the mall is central to a number of transportation alternatives. The concourse could centralize the LIFT buses of Framingham and Natick's Neighborhood Bus, which both currently serve the mall, but do not directly link.

The mall is also close to the Peter Pan bus lines, commuter rails in Natick and Framingham and bus routes that link to area industrial parks.

"If we can serve people going east and people going west, we'll really have something," Stasik said. "If you know it's going to be there and you can count on it, then it may be enough to get people out of their cars."

Other officials have suggested mall owners General Growth Properties fund a shuttle bus that would link their property to nearby destinations, including Framingham's Shoppers World, Sherwood Plaza and General Cinemas.

In a letter to Natick officials, Framingham Planning Board Chairman Thomas Mahoney suggested a shuttle service would help keep shoppers off local roads.

The idea will likely not be a condition of the mall's approval from the Natick Planning Board. Still, regional planners have appeared in front of the board to urge some long-term financial contribution from the mall to help mitigate traffic in Natick and beyond.

"We remain concerned about the off-site traffic impacts and continue to push for a more regional perspective," said Amy Cotter, director of the MetroWest Growth Management Committee, which is finalizing a regional impact review of the mall expansion in the next few days. "We need to look further."

Stasik said the transportation task force will ask mall owners for a financial commitment to the LIFT and Neighborhood Bus services in the future.

"It needs to be a combination of private support and support from cities and towns, the state and federal government," he said.

From MetroWest Daily News

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They signed up nordstrums and neiman marcus as tennants for the mall expansion.

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I know, Nordstrom's is a big draw for Providence, Providence Place currently has the only one in New England. Oh well.

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Westfarms mall in West Hartford has a Nortstroms.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Thank you for pointing that out. They are spreading rumors about having the only Nordstrom in New England over here, huh? I guess I'm guilty too, cuz I would have said we had the only one. B)

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Nordstrom is nice....we have one here in Charlotte.....and are also getting a Neiman Marcus in Fall '06.....supposedly Natick mall is getting a Neiman's as well? Interesting....

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The Natick Mall is in for a transformation.........with Filene's closing and Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, and 80 new stores on the way, this retail jewel will be unrecognizable soon!

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They had a really stunning renovation a few years ago. Hopefully they can keep improving.

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They are not going to be able to do anything if they can't do something about getting decent stores to stay there. Every time I go in there more shops have closed, and simply get replaced by yet another girls clothingstore. It seems to me that mall is bocimg more and more of a teenager mall.

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They are not going to be able to do anything if they can't do something about getting decent stores to stay there. Every time I go in there more shops have closed, and simply get replaced by yet another girls clothingstore. It seems to me that mall is bocimg more and more of a teenager mall.

Yeah i feel ya, I've noticed several stores have closed, including D.E.M.O. which was really the only urbanwear store in the mall.....they need some diversity in their store lineup, hopefully the expansion will make it for them

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What im trying to figure out is.........Is nordstrom and Neiman both opening new spots.....or is one of them going to take the Old Macy's spot??

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No. As far as I know, the old Macy's is going to another retailer, possibly JCPenney if the news I'm hearing is right.

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I read an article in the Dallas Morning News that JCP plans on adding 175 stores.

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I read an article in the Dallas Morning News that JCP plans on adding 175 stores.

They just opened one in Providence Place, replacing Lord & Taylor. I would have preferred a Sears.

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Lord & taylor is having a store closing sale at the North Shore Plaza in Peabody.

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Lord & taylor is having a store closing sale at the North Shore Plaza in Peabody.

No offense, but what does this have to do with Natick? lol jk....nevertheless, interesting...Lord & Taylor just seems to be plummeting lately

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Lord & Taylor is a store that caters to mature, conservative ladies, possibly the least desirable demographic there is in retail marketing. Sad part about Over-rated, um, Federated letting L&T die is that it could easily be saved with a little tweaking.

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This was a dumb idea:

Natick Mall drops bid to be known simply as 'Natick' [The Boston Globe]

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^ Ideas like theat tend to work better if there isn't already an adjacent town using the same moniker.

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