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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Retail Business and Movie Complex Slated For Downtown

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Thursday, January 19, 2006

North Adams – With plans for two retail venues and a vast, eight–screen cinema complex at the former K-mart plaza marching forward, additional downtown hustle and bustle could be realized by summer, according to city Mayor John Barrett III and First Hartford Realty Corp. CEO Neil H. Ellis.

Barrett and Ellis revealed details about proposed development at the site during a Jan. 18 media conference at City Hall.

New Downtown Venues

A Peebles department store is expected to open and utilize about 20,000-square-feet of space, while a Staples store is expected to occupy about 15,000 square feet. Ellis has said that both stores could open by June, Barrett said during a Jan. 19 telephone interview.

An eight-screen, stadium-seating style movie theater is planned for the site as well, and could open by year’s end. The complex will replace a Cinema Six on Curran Highway and will be operated by the Cinema North company of Rutland, Vt.. The theater is expected to offer seating for 750 and an Ashland Street theater entrance is planned.

A new movie theater coupled with additional shopping options could bring new spark to the downtown, Barrett said.

“You bring a theater complex to the downtown, you bring people downtown,” he said, and agreed that the stores and a theater could generate evening downtown traffic.

“You get people coming out to eat before the movies, or after the movies,” he said. “You get people who decide to come out and stop at Moulton’s General Store, or Galadriel’s, or one of the downtown shops.”

"L" Mall Makeover Planned

The Main Street/American Legion Drive-facing “L” mall is scheduled for a major exterior makeover as well. Plans are underway to transform the multi-storefront’s “nondescript” appearance to a structure with a New England-style look. New siding and clapboard construction along the area that houses an H & R Block business is likely to begin in the spring, Barrett said.

“This will be a New England look, a look that will soften the building appearance and he’s [Ellis] said he’s ready to start when the weather breaks,” Barrett said.

Ellis was unavailable for comment on Jan. 19.

Room For More

Retail space remains available near the planned Peebles and Staples sites. Ellis reportedly stated during the media conference that negotiations are underway with officials of a national restaurant chain about space at the former Brooks Pharmacy site within the “L” mall; Barrett said that the restaurant could be an Applebee’s.

A Peebles opening would bring a new dimension to downtown shopping and a Staples shop is likely to benefit college students and faculty, entities such as the North Adams Regional Hospital, and local businesses, Barrett said.

The First Hartford firm purchased the property in March 2005. Initial company plans for the site –which included a possible dollar-type retail store and a mattress sales shop – was not in line with Barrett’s downtown vision. Barrett and Ellis sparred verbally for several months and First Hartford filed an appeal of a 2005 city Planning Board decision against freezing zoning at the property with the Massachusetts Land Court, but during the fall, the two were able to find points of agreement. Ellis reportedly said during the media conference that the court case will be dismissed.

Looking To The Long Term

Barrett said that he supports the current plans.

“Mr. Ellis and I started to talk and things started moving ahead,” Barrett said. “My strategy has been the same since Day 1: ‘don’t sell yourself cheap.’ There’s always pressure when something’s empty, but you have to look to the long term. I know there were those who said ‘who’s Barrett to dictate what goes in there.’ I didn’t try to dictate what goes in there. I was looking for a good long term plan.”

City Councilor Richard Alcombright was among the councilors who attended the conference. Speaking during a Jan. 19 telephone interview, Alcombright noted his support for the proposal.

When he learned that a Peebles store was part of the proposal, he researched the company on-line and was pleased with his findings, Alcombright said.

“I couldn’t be happier with the outcome,” he said. “I think Peebles and Staples are strong retailers and could restore some of the jobs that were lost to the K-mart closing.”

The downtown K-mart store closed after the company announced it was filing a Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2002.

A theater coupled with new shopping options could bring Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts students into the downtown as well, he said.

“There’s a opportunity to reconnect with the college community,” Alcombright said. “I’m really happy with this, and that’s where I’m coming from. I’m tickled.”

The proposal will face review by the city Planning Board and Redevelopment Authority. Planning Board members may consider the plans during a scheduled Feb. 13 meeting.

The plans are evidence of Barrett’s commitment to continued improvements within the city, he said.

“I feel good about it in the sense of when times are tough, don’t lower your standards, raise them,” Barrett said.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.
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