Bedford Mall’s future seen as a ‘power center’

On a Saturday afternoon, when most shopping centers overflow with hustlers and bustlers jostling for bargains, you’ll likely find more plants than people in the halls of the Bedford Mall.In terms of stores, the mall along South River Road in Bedford is equally empty. Out of 27 or 28 spaces for tenants – depending on how the stores are broken up – only eight shops remain today, not counting the Outback Steakhouse on mall property.In fact, according to Bill Bond, Emmes Asset Management Co. developer and vice president, the mall hasn’t reached full capacity in terms of tenants since before Emmes took over the shopping center in 2007, when subsidiary Gateway Van Buren Inc. purchased the mall.Competition with other malls in the area has played a major factor in the Bedford Mall’s decline, Bond said.”Other retail malls and strip centers have been developed since the ’60s, which makes it difficult or more difficult to compete,” Bond said. “Additionally, the retailers in general have shifted focus from small internal malls to larger malls and strip centers.”All things considered, Emmes has been tossing around schemes to redevelop the property for three years, given the continued decline.Since February 2009, Emmes has been working with the town planning board on a major redevelopment solution.The major development slated to take place will demolish the northern half of the mall that stands vacant now – the area where China Buffet and the Bedford 7 movie theater used to be – to redevelop the property and replace it with individually standing box stores, anchored by Kohl’s.”It will be more what people think of as a power center or a retail center, with no internal hallway mall as it has been for all these years,” said Rick Sawyer, Bedford Planning director.He said shoppers are “really more interested in being able to drive up closer to the store they want to go into, versus walking an interior mall, at least of this scale. Certainly smaller malls, the Nashua Mall and the Newington Mall, both went away from traditional malls. Maybe only the larger malls can still be competitive.”The redeveloped retail center is intended to retain some small shops, while adding the larger, corporate traffic-getters.Bond said the redeveloped mall will feature both small and large businesses, and will host about 16 tenant spaces total, in the plans.”We hope for a combination of both” small and large businesses, Bond said. “We want a healthy mix of tenants of both local and national origin.”The project still needs official approval from the town. A planning board meeting is scheduled for Aug. 16 to meet with developers to go over some of the latest updates to Emmes’ proposal and to determine whether it can be approved to begin construction.If the proposal is approved, construction on the outbuildings could begin as early as September to allow Staples and other tenants to move in as soon as they’re completed, Sawyer said.”It will happen in stages” if it’s approved, Bond said. “The first work will occur in late August, with project completion, hopefully, depending on various schedules, through the end of 2011.” – MARYALICE GILL/THE TELEGRAPH