The PEDA board was unanimous in its support for the letter of intent.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Wal-Mart is looking to move to the William Stanley Business Park.
The Pittsfield Economic Development Agency granted Waterstone Retail a letter of intent, giving the company the exclusive right to pursue development of a 16.5-acre parcel known as "the teens," where General Electric buildings once stood.
The plan is for Wal-Mart to develop a new 190,000 square-foot super center and move out of its existing location in Berkshire Crossing. Waterstone, which is heading the development, now has to pursue permits and approvals from the city as well as work out a purchase agreement with PEDA.
"Allowing them to make their case is what this is all about," said PEDA Executive Director Corydon Thurston.
The agreement gives the company 60 days to reach a lease and sales agreement. Thurston said the company will lease the property during construction — putting it on PEDA's insurance should unexpected contamination be found — and then purchase it. The price is $65,000 per acre, giving PEDA some $1.07 million.
"Once the building is up, they would buy it," Thurston said.
Don Harr, of Atlantic Retail Properties from Boston, teamed up with Waterstone on this project, dating back six years now. He said Wal-Mart would build at the intersection of Tyler Street and Woodlawn Avenue — on the eastern side of Woodlawn — and once ready, the 200 or so employees at the Berkshire Crossings location will move into that operation.
"We have a business deal in place with Wal-Mart to occupy the entire teens parcel. Wal-Mart has approved this site corporately, we have a signed agreement with Wal-Mart," Harr said.
Wal-Mart has a re-tenanting division that finds new companies to occupy spaces it vacates; that division would find a replacement for the empty building on Hubbard Avenue.
Harr said the construction would be $30 million, including a plan to further remedy the contaminated land. He said some $12 million will be spent on just the foundation alone and another $18 million on the project. He estimated some 350 construction jobs and that the super center — with added grocery — would create an additional 80 to 100 jobs.
"There literally has been no project of this size and scope that been constructed in the city for 10 years, 15 years. We're talking about a $30 million project," Harr said.
Waterstone had come before the PEDA board in the past with retail plans but didn't reveal the anchor. The focus was to start with a big box retailer and then the rest of the park could be developed in with mixed uses. However, that became a contentious fight with many residents pushing back against having retail on the industrial land. It even became a pillar of discussion during the 2013 elections.
"Six years ago the idea was that the teens parcel was a good retail location. Anton [Melchionda from Waterstone] and I teamed up and thought we could provide an anchor tenant," Harr said.
Former Mayor Daniel Bianchi fought and campaigned against it. Bianchi had more recently said he told Waterstone to back off the property and that he was skeptical that somebody was "going to receive a payday that the public will never know about." He allegedly told the company that PEDA would was going in a different direction.
And the plan fizzled from public view.
Just six months into the new administration, Waterstone has returned and this time revealed the name of the tenant, which it hadn't done in the past. Thurston said PEDA and Waterstone have remained in touch and this plan hasn't changed much.
"We tried to maintain their interest and they maintained interested in the property," Thurston said.
The executive director says the property eyed is not only the largest but also the "most complex" to redevelop. But, he said PEDA isn't taking a stance on supporting the project or not — just giving the company the ability to apply.
"As an economic development agency, PEDA has a responsibility to bring all qualified opportunities to the city that put the properties of the William Stanley Business Park back on the tax rolls with quality investments that create jobs but the special permit will be up to others," reads a statement Thurston crafted.
"This project proposal meets that obligation and this letter of intent simply sets the basic terms for the lease/sale of the land to Waterstone contingent upon it receiving the necessary permits."
That message was also what PEDA board member Christina Barrett relayed from current Mayor Linda Tyer's office who, according to Barrett, is supportive of letting any business use go through the process that includes public hearings.
Tyer released a statement Wednesday afternoon supporting the company's right to the permitting process and looking for a plan that meets both the needs of the developer and the needs of the neighborhood.
"The city of Pittsfield welcomes any developer who expresses an interest in locating a business in our city. As mayor of Pittsfield, I believe strongly in the right to a due process concerning proposed business developments. This applies to the Waterstone Retail Development proposal," Tyer wrote.
"This recent proposal now marks the third time, first in 2011 and then in 2013, that Waterstone has pursued the City of Pittsfield, namely the William Stanley Business Park, as a location for its retail enterprise. As it has in the past, we know that the proposed development will lend itself to a spectrum of varying and staunch perspectives about the nature of the development and its place in Pittsfield. This, too, is a part of the process.
It is important to realize that while it's really easy to say no without further discussion, it's often harder to engage in dialogue that challenges us to consider positions other than our own. Is there a way to establish a finished product that not only works for the developer, but the neighborhood and landscape as well?"
During mayoral debates, Tyer voiced support for developing a number of uses for the park and not just focused on industrial development.
Al Maiorino feels the public's sentiment is behind the development of the long-vacant land. He is the president of Public Strategy Group and is working with Waterstone and Atlantic on the project.
He said he conducted a survey that showed 95 percent of those who responded supported development of the park with 82 percent supporting retail and mixed use. He said 75 percent support "large retail downtown as opposed to the mall."
"These numbers were by far the strongest I've seen in 20 years in economic development," Maiorino said.
Harr further contends that placing a premium on the William Stanley Business Park because of its industrial zoning is misguided. He said there are 185 acres of available industrial land in Pittsfield and it is significantly more inexpensive to renovate an existing building than build new. He presented comparables showing recent industrial property sales trending far behind the cost to build new.
"Some of the opposition we've been dealing with is the thought that there is no industrial land to be developed in Pittsfield," Harr said. "The fact is there are several industrial-zoned properties that are able to be developed."
The three developers said they will be meeting with the Office of Community Development on Thursday to further discuss the plan and start the process of permitting.
"I appreciate the developer's interest in our community," said PEDA Chairman Mick Callahan.
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