August 12. 2018 10:44AM

Million-dollar NH mall makeovers: Rapidly evolving to connect with today's consumer

By MICHAEL COUSINEAU
New Hampshire Union Leader


The former Maple Tree Mall in Manchester's North End has a new look and new mix of tenants as well as a new name: It's now called the North End Shops at Livingston Park. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

The Maple Tree Mall in Manchester's North End recently finished a $1 million facelift - including a new facade, sign and revamped parking lot.

"It brought it from the 1980s to 2018," said Emily Martel, marketing manager for Milne Travel, a tenant there.

About a 20-minute drive away, a Massachusetts developer stripped a former Shaw's plaza in Merrimack down to its structural steel, spending more than $6 million to transform it.

And in Londonderry, another Bay State developer recently paid $6 million to buy the Apple Tree Mall with plans to spend up to $3 million more to upgrade that strip mall along Route 102.

Mall makeovers, both big and small, are happening around the state.

"Strips malls and big boxes (large retail stores) are being repurposed to smaller amenity-type retail," said Tom Farrelly, executive director of Cushman & Wakefield of New England, the real estate firm representing the property seller in the Londonderry mall deal.

The Manchester mall also sports a new name - North End Shops at Livingston Park - to "give it a new connotation," said Jared Jammal, asset manager for Linear Retail Properties, the Burlington, Mass., firm that owns the property and a dozen others in southern New Hampshire.

The company also bought an adjoining 1.3-acre property for $750,000 that once housed Shaw's Service Center. Linear plans to tear down the existing building and erect a one-story building to tie into the mall. It's in discussions with potential tenants, he said.

The new mall owner has raised the occupancy there from 53 percent when it bought it in late December 2016 to 75 percent today.

KeyPoint Partners, in Burlington, Mass., is a commercial real estate company that issues a yearly report on southern New Hampshire's retail scene.

"In large part, smart developers these days are avoiding direct competition with Amazon," said the firm's vice president of research, Bob Sheehan.

In Merrimack, the old Shaw's store was vacant for years, while a few smaller tenants hung on in the mostly empty plaza.

"It took someone to come in and see the vision and buy it at the right price and understand where the market would be and come up with that appropriate tenant mix," Sheehan said.

Rebuilt and rebranded as Merrimack 360, the plaza now features Planet Fitness, which opened in July, and the Altitude Trampoline Park, which is expected to open Aug. 19. Eight of 10 spaces in the 85,000-square-foot plaza are spoken for, and full occupancy is expected by the end of the year, said Robert Barsamian, president of OVP Management, which owns the property.

Barsamian said his staff made contact with more than 1,000 potential tenants to try to fill the mall on Daniel Webster Highway.

"It's not like these things just happen," Barsamian said.

The staff is "focusing more on the service side of things," bringing in entertainment and service uses and food, he said. "The makeover was kind of everything," Barsamian said. "We didn't want it to look like an old plaza or feel like an old plaza."

Hale Cole-Tucker, co-owner of the Tucker's restaurant chain, said he chose the Merrimack mall for his sixth location because he liked the variety of tenants, including the gym and trampoline park.

"We were really excited with what those guys were doing with that project," he said.

Old spaces, new faces

Retail space is constantly available somewhere.

Sports Authority stores closed in 2016 when the sporting goods retailer was liquidated following its bankruptcy filing. Several of those New Hampshire stores are getting new tenants this year.

The Manchester one, already with Guitar Center and Party City, will also get a DSW shoe store, according to a real estate firm brokering an ATM pad lease there. DSW is expected to open early next year.

Andy Silberfein, managing partner of Connecticut-based Centerco Manchester LLC, which owns that South Willow Street plaza, said Sports Authority's departure allowed him to chop the space into three stores and do other renovations, including updating the facade.

"It was tired," he said. "From a competitive standpoint, you want to bring it up to a modern look and feel. We think we have the nicest property in the area."

Sierra Trading Post, which sells outdoor gear and clothing, will host a grand opening Aug. 19 in the former Sports Authority store on D.W. Highway in Nashua, according to Sierra Trading Post's website. The store is owned by TJX Companies, the Framingham, Mass.-based company that operates Marshalls and T.J. Maxx.

Cost Plus World Market, which offers home decor, opened in February in the former Sports Authority on South Broadway in Salem.

Large enclosed malls also are looking for new uses to old space.

Steeplegate Mall in Concord is welcoming a charter school.

Capital City Public Charter School is renting 34,408 square feet in the former Bon-Ton men's store, inheriting old display cases and racks that it will incorporate into the school, according to school founder Stephanie Alicea.

The school, which opens Sept. 4, will launch its inaugural year with sixth- through eighth-graders and perhaps some ninth-graders, eventually expanding to grade 12 within five years, said Alicea, who occasionally shopped in that same space.

"I actually thought of the old Circuit City right next door," she said of other vacated mall space that will be partly filled by the Altitude Trampoline Park later this year. "I'm really not that far off, which is crazy."