Woburn's indoor mall era is over.
With a South Carolina developer moving months ago to begin interior demolition work in the 244,000 square foot structure, the City Council recently sealed the fate of Mishawum Road's Woburn Mall by granting Edens LLC a special permit to redevelop the 23-acre site into a lifestyle center.
The East Woburn mall's date with the wrecking ball will bring about the creation of the Woburn Village project, a sprawling mixed-use redevelopment with an outdoor market feel that's similar to MarketStreet Lynnfield and Burlington's 3rd Avenue complex.
Presently, the East Woburn site, situated just moments away from both I-93, Route 128, and Anderson Regional Transportation Center off Commerce Way, houses just a few active businesses at the main 1984 mall.
That supermarket fixture, still drawing significant activity, will remain as the main anchor tenant in a new strip mall structure towards the Commerce Way side of the new lifestyle center. Old Mall tenants T.J. Maxx, Homegoods and DSW Shoes will relocate to those new spaces along with a Homesense outlet.
Other key Woburn Village redevelopment components include:
• A new 10-screen movie cinema complex, which will sit on an elevated perch above an attached parking garage;
• Two substantial ground-level building spurs off of that cinema complex, which will include one wing with 9,950 square feet of retail space and a second structure with 7,700 square feet;
• Dual six-story apartment buildings, situated along the rear property line towards the China Pearl restaurant side of the mall property, which will include 350 housing units, a 444-space garage, and six new storefronts with a total of 13,200 square feet of ground-level space;
• Three new Mishawum Road side buildings on the westerly, or the China Pearl side of the main driveway, with a combined 20,000 square feet of retail space;
• And on the easterly side of the Mishawum Road driveway, a new 5,500 square foot retail building will be constructed behind an existing plaza that houses a Floyd's 99 Barbershop, Qdoba Grille, and Colonial Liquors.
Last month, Edens representative Brad Dumont joined with city officials in boasting that the 40R or transit-oriented smart growth project will breath fresh life into one of the city's largest commercial properties.
Besides revitalizing a struggling retail center that dates back to 1984, the City of Woburn, in designating the 23-acre parcel a state-sanctioned smart growth redevelopment, stands to receive $1.5 million in one-time incentives.
"On behalf of Edens and our entire team, we just want to thank the City Council for all your work in making this project a reality. We're going to do everything in our power to make this project something the city is really proud of and to live up to all ourscommitments," said Dumont after city officials voted unanimously to grant special permits for the Woburn Village initiative.
Expected to take two-and-a-half years to build, the new lifestyle center will reportedly create 600 temporary construction jobs. At least 100 new workers will be employed by various tenants who lease space at the site.
Woburn also expects Edens annual property tax bill to nearly double to $1.3 million, while new restaurants are projected to generate an additional $45,000 in new annual meals tax revenues. The City Council in its recent special permit vote attached a variety of mitigation demands to the approval, which require Edens LLC to pledge a minimum of $200,000 for future traffic studies and roadway network improvements.
The developer has also agreed to tie Mishawum Road's traffic light network into "adaptive" controllers by nearby Washington Street, where the high-tech devices adjust signal timing based upon real-time traffic conditions.
Indoor mall formats languishing
The Woburn City Council's recent approval of the Woburn Village project ends a herculean economic planning effort that began nearly 16 months ago, when Mayor Scott Galvin during his State-of-the-City address pegged the 23-acre mall parcel as perfect for a 40R initiative.
Though Edens was involved in virtually all of those discussions, city leaders seized Edens' $44 million purchase of the mall in late 2017 as the perfect opportunity to launch broader community talks over the future of the commercial center.
Though Galvin sparked that start of discourse in Feb. of 2018 by retaining the consulting services of the quasi-public Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC), dozens of city officials and citizens participated in that debate.
Of particular concern was the sensitivity of the larger Mishawum Road/Commerce Way corridor, an approximate mile-long tract of largely underutilized commercial and industrial land parcels that stretche between the mall and Atlantic Avenue by Anderson Regional Transportation Center. That zone is considered by many to be ripe for redevelopment, and the City Council and Planning Board have created a special overlay district there to encourage the construction of premiere office and retail centers and luxury housing complexes.
Ultimately, the MAPC agreed that the mayor's initial vision for the mall property, which will include nearly 70 new affordable housing units, made sense in light of the site's proximity to major highways and the Lowell-line commuter rail.
As a result, Galvin last summer followed up on that MAPC report by introducing legislation that formally established a 40R or Smart Growth Overlay District (SGOD) around the site. The City Council adopted those regulations in late January.
Representatives from Edens had long declared the Woburn Mall shopping center as floundering in the face of stiff competition from the Burlington Mall and lifestyle centers like MarketStreet Lynnfield.
With a number of major brick-and-mortar retailers like Sears, Toys R Us, and Sports Authority declaring bankruptcy in recent years, the commercial real estate manager also contends that America's decades-long love affair with the indoor mall has come to a tragic end.
Replacing that model, according to a multitude of developers and market experts, consumers have reportedly developed a preference for outdoor markets that feature a mix of shopping, entertainment and fine dining options. Those destination spots, such as Somerville's Assembly Row redevelopment and Lynnfield's MarketStreet project, also commonly include housing and employment centers.
As of July of 2018, just before the City Council officially began its deliberations over establishing a 40R district around the Woburn Mall site, at least 85,000 square feet of retail space within the Mishawum Road building was listed as vacant.
By the time the recent Woburn Village petition was filed last month, that vacancy rate had climbed to 120,518 square feet. Though some of that new turnover apparently relates to the non-renewal of leases with mall tenants, the petitioner has pointed to the high vacancy rate within the Woburn Mall as indicative of the need to revitalize the entire property.