NORTH ATTLEBORO, Mass. (WPRI) — Giving new life to aging malls is a challenge facing communities across the country.
This week is a big week for retailers with Black Friday shopping, and 12 News has learned at least two local shopping spots could be on the verge of a mall makeover.
The Emerald Square Mall, a 1 million square foot shopping center, was once a shopping mecca. It was recently sold to its new owners, Kohan Retail Group, for a fraction of its top value and now it faces an uncertain future.
“Occupancy is down in the mall, they’re around 60%, you know, malls aren’t what they used to be,” North Attleboro Town Manager Mike Borg said.
The number of U.S. malls has declined from an estimated 2,500 in the 1980s, down to about 700 as of now, according to the retail advisory firm Siteworks.
“If [the Emerald Square Mall] were to go away today, that’s about $1 million a year in annual tax revenue that would then have to be spread around to the other taxpayers in town because that’s not going to change,” Borg said. “It’s in our best interest to have this be successful.
Borg believes a mix-use zoning change is the answer to bring in more options.
It’s similar to what the owners of Providence Place proposed recently as they were seeking an extension to their tax treaty with the city of Providence.
“We are looking for a full spectrum of other uses to be allowed. The world has changed over the last 25 years, especially the last few years pretty dramatically. and Brookfield is reenvisioning and reimaging and would like to reinvest significant dollars and remake the Providence Place Mall,” previously said Jeffrey Padwa, attorney for Brookfield Properties.
Meanwhile, in North Attleboro, Borg has been attempting to discuss options with the Emerald Square Mall’s new owners. 12 News has also reached out but have not yet heard back as to what they are planning for the mall’s future.
“We think that mixed-use and bringing in housing, and affordable housing, and retail, and manufacturing, light manufacturing, we’d love to see life sciences here,” Borg explained.
Any alterations would be part of a long process including a by-law change, town council and planning board approvals, and public hearings.
If nothing changes, there’s a concern that the Emerald Square Mall, and other malls across the country, could shutter.
“We are invested in this property,” Borg said. “The success here really means success for the town.”
Mall ownership and North Attleboro’s Town Manager had a planned meeting this week, but details have not yet been made public.