Steeplegate Mall redevelopment, with Cosco and Whole Foods as well as 625 housing units, to be heard next week

By DAVID BROOKS

Monitor staff

Published: 10-13-2023 5:00 PM

Redevelopment plans for Steeplegate Mall that include a Costco and a Whole Foods supermarket as well as some 600 housing units are moving ahead now that a Massachusetts developer has purchased the site.

An initial Planning Board hearing is set for next Wednesday.

The mixed-use proposal to replace the Steeplegate Mall and adjacent Regal Cinema is one of the biggest that Concord has seen in years. It calls for five residential buildings to be built throughout the property, each four or five stories tall, with a total of 625 units, half one-bedroom and half two-bedrooms. It comes from Needham, Mass.-based Onyx Partners Ltd., a commercial real estate development firm that has developed and owns properties in many states, including several in New Hampshire. It specializes in malls and shopping plazas.

“We like to go into markets that we believe have been underserved from a housing or retail standpoint,” said Brian Kaplan, Onyx vice president. “This site in particular has been left vacant pretty much and not well maintained. It’s an opportunity to create more value for the community.”

The development marks new life for an aged piece of Concord’s retail landscape. 

“We don’t look specifically for old, under-utilized malls but there’s certainly an opportunity as some of these malls are being repositioned and redeveloped,” Kaplan said. “That’s just the changing environment in retail, what national tenants are looking for.”

The company completed the purchase of the Steeplegate Mall property Friday, having previously bought the smaller Regal Cinema property. A representative from Atlantic Property Management was on-site Friday, notifying the remaining tenants and employees of Namdar Realty, which had owned the mall.

Andrew Pinard, owner of the Hatbox Theater that has been a tenant of the mall for nine years, said an Onyx Partners representative reached him Friday. Pinard praised the proposal even though the future of the theater remains in limbo.

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“It helps to have specific information that is actionable – before we just had this vague threat and nobody was communicating with us,” he said. “I have been very low, thinking about this ... dreaming about all the worst-case scenarios. Now I feel very enthusiastic that this could be one of the best things that has happened to the community and to Hatbox.”

This coming Wednesday, the Planning Board will hold the first hearing for a comprehensive development plan from Onyx. The meeting starts at 7 p.m.

Under the plan, the Regal Cinema would be torn down and replaced by Whole Foods and other retailers, while most of the mall would also be torn down. The JC Penney store would remain as a standalone. About 60,000 square feet that once held the Bon-Ton stores – a little more than one-tenth of the current mall – would be saved to handle future retail. Initial sketches show this space holding The Zoo health club and Altitude Trampoline Park.

Portions of the current mall are being retained because of long-term leases held by the tenants, Kaplan said.

Plans include new details such as a public dock leading to an adjacent pond, but many things remain to be ironed out. That includes details about traffic, open space and determining whether it is too big for the sewer system in that part of the city, according to a city memo from Associate Engineer Pete Kohalmi.

Steeplegate Mall opened in 1990 with room for about 60 stores, including four anchor tenants and a large food court. It was sold in 2016 to Namdar Realty Group of New York, which has been looking for alternate uses for the slowly emptying structure for years. The interior of the mall was shut in September 2022, evicting the five remaining inside stores. The tenants that remain, including JC Penney, the Zoo Health Club, Hatbox Theater and a pickleball complex, all have their own entrances.

The nearby Applebee’s restaurant and TD Bank building are separate properties not included in the redevelopment plans.

Kaplan said Onyx has developed a number of mixed-use projects that combine housing and retail. He declined to give dollar figures for the work “until we go through the process with the city,” and estimated that once all permits are received, the project would be built in phases that could take between 18 and 36 months to complete.

The Steeplegate redevelopment is among several large, multi-use developments proposed in Concord. All told they total more than 1,600 apartments and condominiums; among them are 600 units proposed for a 95-acre parcel along the Merrimack River north of Sewell’s Falls, on land owned by the Concord Monitor.