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Management Consultant Firm Plans to Reopen Berkshire Mall

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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LANESBOROUGH, Mass. —  An outside management company says the Berkshire Mall will be staged to welcome new — and former — tenants in less than six months. 

Christina Castaneda has been working on getting the shuttered mall back in business since July of last year. Castaneda works under contract for consultation agency Bedi & Associates, to whom mall owners Durga Property Holdings have handed over property and management decisions.

This is the second mall that she will be spearheading the revitalization of and Bedi & Associates' fifth.

"What we plan on doing is coming in, I know, there are repairs that need to be made, cleaning the property, which we've kind of started on, I've had Jaime, who's been an employee there for quite some time, he's taking care of some of the outside stuff, security as far as cameras go, the parking lot, things of that nature that need to be addressed," she explained.

"Once those things are addressed, I'm trying to work with [Realtor] Barbara Hassan to get national brands in the mall."

Castaneda wants to lease spaces in the mall to both local and wide-reaching businesses as well as filling the food court and restaurant space that formerly housed The Garden Grill and Tavern.

She said a number of previous tenants are just waiting for the reopening to resume business including the Bouncy House, Journey's, and Little Tokyo.

"Those that want to come back, of course, I'd love to have them back," she said. "It's just a matter of us getting to that point, and hopefully it'll be very soon."

Castaneda began signing leases in February and hopes to have the work completed in under six months. Reportedly, the mall's old leasing documents are not usable because they were made for when it was booming and most everything has to be created from scratch.

The plan is to start at the  north end of the mall that houses two independently operated businesses —Target and Regal Cinemas — and work down to the south end, the former Sears, that has been vacant for about two years.

Between 2018 and 2019, the mall had a number of intermittent closures with no explanation besides handwritten signs on doors that indicated they were closed. It closed for lack of electricity at least twice.

In March 2019, the judge ordered the sheriff's office to seize close to $300,000 in assets to pay off a court settlement. The trend for its owners at the time, Kohan Retail Investment Group, both locally and nationally, was that it falls behind in taxes and bills and then pays enough back taxes to keep its shopping malls operating.

In July 2019, Durga Property Holdings LLC purchased the 700,000 square-foot structure for $1 million, around $2.5 million less than Kohan had purchased it.

When the mall is up and running, the holding company reportedly anticipates selling it as a turnkey property.

Because the property has been sitting, it is in need of repair inside and out. Castaneda first plans to tackle the facade and do landscaping and pavement repairs and then move onto a roof renovation, of which the mall is greatly in need.

"We do have a lot of roof leaks, it's not necessarily a structural problem, it's an 'it's not been maintained and taken care of' problem," Castaneda said.

"So it's just a matter of identifying all the areas figuring out what's most economical, what is going to work in the long run the best, and moving forward with that."

She said she prefers to hire licensed contractors who have worked on the building before and are familiar with it.

The cost of the repairs has not yet been determined but when they are, she is ready to get the ball rolling on construction.

"I've started reaching out to the community to get bids from contractors and start putting quotes together and getting prepared so that when the time does come that we take over, that I have everything already in line and ready to go," Castaneda said.

In terms of uses for the mall, Castaneda says she is an "open book" and entertains the possibility of many different kinds of tenants. She has so far received inquiries from a fire museum and the closed Berkshire Carousel.

To generate community input, she has created a Facebook page titled "Berkshire Mall The Reopening" where residents can track the progress of the Berkshire Mall's renovation and tell her what they would like to see there.

"My main goal is to establish a way to communicate with the community and for people to be able to, whenever it's convenient for them, get online and see and scroll through what's going on and what's happening and what's coming and those kinds of things so that they can keep up with what's going on with their property," Castaneda said.

"And that it provides a place for people to ask questions. And, you know, just be able to really see what's going on without having to disrupt their normal everyday routines too much."

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DA Clears Trooper in Fatal Hancock Shooting

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

District Attorney Timothy Shugrue says the results of an autopsy by the medical examiner will not change his findings, which are based on the video and witnesses. With him are State Police Lts. Chris Bruno and Ryan Dickinson and First Assistant District Attorney Marianne Shelvey.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — District Attorney Timothy Shugrue has determined that State Police Trooper William Munch acted in compliance during what is being described as a "suicide by cop" earlier this month.
On Sept. 9, 64-year-old Phillip Henault reportedly placed a fictitious 911 call about an ongoing violent assault. Body-camera footage from the trooper shows the man advancing on him with two knives before being shot twice and collapsing in the street in front of his Richmond Road residence.
"Mr. Henault was actively using deadly force against law enforcement. There were no other objectively reasonable means that the trooper could have employed at the time in order to effectively protect himself and anyone that was in the home or the public. By virtue of his duties as a police officer, the trooper did not have the obligation to run away from Mr. Henault," Shugrue said during a press conference on Friday.
"Mr. Henault posed an active threat to the trooper and to the public. The trooper had a duty to arrest Mr. Henault who was engaged in various felonies. His arm was an active threat."
The DA determined that Munch's decision to fire his weapon at Henault under the circumstances was a "lawful and reasonable exercise of self-defense and defense of others" compliance with the policies of the State Police and commonwealth law, clearing the trooper of criminal charges and closing the investigation.
The lethal force was labeled as an "unavoidable last resort."
A preliminary autopsy determined the unofficial cause of death was two gunshot wounds to the torso with contributing factors of wounds to the wrists that were inflicted by Heneault. The final report from the medical examiner has not been issued.
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