March 19. 2017 11:18PM

Movie theater, restaurants proposed for Salem mall

Union Leader Correspondent

The five new businesses would be built in the parking lot behind Sears. (COURTESY)

SALEM — Redevelopment of the parking lot behind Sears at the Mall at Rockingham Park could be coming sometime in the near future.

The plan would be to put in a 10-screen cinema as well as four sit-down, casual restaurants in the roughly 14-acre space. The hope is that these businesses would provide more amenities for residents and visitors while utilizing the abundance of largely unused land in the parking lot.

“It really is a redevelopment opportunity that we’re pursuing here,” said Roy Tilsely, an attorney from Bernstein Shur in Manchester helping developers with the project.

Construction would mean the loss of the Sears Auto Center located in that space and the loss of 810 parking spaces overall, though developers said it will look into bringing that number down as the design process moves forward.

Already, Cinemark, a Texas-based movie theater company with more than 500 locations in the Unites States and Latin America, has signed on to the plans. Developers are still looking for restaurants interested in the four proposed lots.

Developers met with the planning board recently to go over the conceptual idea for the project and address any immediate concerns, which primarily dealt with water usage and traffic in that area.

“I know that’s an issue in town, so we might want to talk about that,” Ross Moldoff, the town’s planning director, said of water usage.

Members of the Planning Board also said they hope developers will work closely with the developers from the Tuscan Village project, which is located next door to the eastern part of the property.

“There’s going to be a lot of people walking from the literally hundreds of housing units going into the Tuscan Village project,” said Planning Board Vice Chairman Linda Harvey. “You really need to give some serious, serious thought about sidewalks and put them in there.”

However, the idea of the restaurants there was an aspect planning board member Ed Declercq said he was in favor of.

“The restaurant concept is something Salem does need,” he said.

Abutters to the property living primarily on Pleasant Street spoke as well, bringing up concerns about increased traffic, lighting and noise in that area. For most of the property owners, their backyards look out over that mall parking lot.

“I’m going to hear everybody in there when I’m in my yard and sitting on my back deck,” said Gilles Lavoie.

Lavoie said he hopes the plans would include some sort of sound wall or barrier to help with that.

Other residents, including Sherry Ritter, echoed these sentiments.

“There has to be something in there that’s going to give us a better buffer,” she said.

Ritter also said she was concerned about whether or not there would be adequate parking, since there are a few times during the holiday season that the lot fills up.

The intent is to come back to subsequent meetings with more detailed traffic studies and plans to further address these concerns.

“A lot of the specifics are not here because it’s at the conceptual level,” Moldoff said. “We’ve got a ways to go.”