Thursday, May 9, 2013

What's In A Name? Only W/S Development Knows For Sure

What's the difference between a lifestyle center and an outlet center?

 The residents of Cheshire will find out sometime within the next two weeks, as Massachusetts-based W/S Development rolls out details of its plans for some kind of shopping area at the intersection of Interstate 691 and Route 10 in the town's North End to officials

 But until late Thursday evening, we had every reason to believe that what was in the works was a lifestyle center called the Shoppes At Cheshire, retail development's answer to recreating a town center environment on a more grand scale (see the artist's rendition at left).

There was no reason to believe otherwise. W/S Vice President of Development Louis Masiello told the New Haven Register earlier this year the only element that had changed from when the developer got its initial approval for the project in 2008 was that plans for 146 condominium units had been shelved because of concerns about that segment of the real estate market.

Masiello said W/S was retaining the remaining features of the complex, including:

—A multi-screen movie theater with underground parking

—An organic grocery store of about 50,000 square feet

—A health club
—A large bookstore chain.
But that all may have changed Thursday when the company put out a press release in which W/S stated its intention "to bring top designer and brand name outlets to the Cheshire project."
“The decision to build a destination outlet center is in large part due to the very strong retail interest in the project and the success of outlet centers today” said Mark Roberts, senior vice president of leasing at W/S.. “With its convenient highway location and super regional access, the project is perfectly positioned within the state for outlet retail."

The idea of an outlet center certainly runs contrary to what W/S had laid out before Cheshire's Planning and Zoning Commission. although not dramatically so.
Clinton Crossing and Tanger Outlet Center in Westbrook are outlet centers, where shoppers are lured with prospect of getting deep discounts on designer clothes and other brand name goods.

 W/S pitched a  product that seemed to be much more similar in style to Evergreen Walk in South Windsor or The Shoppes at Farmington Valley in Canton, which is a W/S property and is shown at right.
The name of the Cheshire project has changed. It's now going to be called "The Outlets At Cheshire." and it's going to have 585,000 square feet of retail space, up from the 500,000 W/S had previously said  would be developed.
Will all these changes matter to the PZC and consumers in the surrounding area?
 Probably not, since W/S says the complex will generate $1.6 million in annual property tax revenue and create 400 jobs during the construction as well 1,100 permanent full and part-time jobs in the businesses that populate it. In an economy that is still struggling to get back on its feet, Connecticut will take whatever jobs it can get.
Of course, it is a municipal election year and with Republicans holding a 6-3 advantage on the Cheshire Town Council, it will be interesting which political party moves to stake out the position as opponents of the project, particularly with the changes that W/S has proposed.
Hopefully, W/S Development officials will explain themselves further later on Friday. But one can make an educated guess that after having to shelve the project for almost five years because of the worst recession in a generation, W/S is proposing to take what the market will bear and is abandoning the idea of an upscale shopping mecca in favor of attracting the bargain hungry masses.
Tweaking the focus of the project ever so slightly could also be an attempt to keep Westfield Properties, the owner of the place most folks in northern New Haven County know as the Meriden Square Mall, from  taking up legal action. The Meriden mall is located a little less than five miles from where W/S is planning its outlet center and Westfield Properties had threatened, prior to the PZC 2008 approval vote, to go to court to block the new retail center.
An outlet center might be viewed as less of a threat to Westfield's Meriden mall. which is all indoors and is spread across two levels.
Cheshire Economic Development Coordinator Jerry Sitko said Thursday that W/S had a number officials in town, but he didn't say why. Now we know the reason.

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