July 24 2018

Planning Board Approves Changes at Former Sears Site in Burlington Mall

By: Rich Hosford

Proposed changes to a big part of the Burlington Mall are one step closer to becoming a reality.


Last Thursday the Burlington Planning Board approved an application for a site plan for the former Sears and Sears Automotive sites at the mall.

As reported on BNEWS, representatives of Simon Property Group, the company that owns the mall, have been before the Planning Board to discuss a proposed project for the former Sears and Sears Automotive sites. Those properties, once owned independently by Sears, were acquired by Simon Properties and they are now looking into ways to redevelop them to better fit the modern mall market.

The biggest change will be on the first floor of the Sears building. Rather than keeping it as a large, single-use retail location, the plan calls for expanding the mall corridor into the existing space and creating numerous small retail and restaurant locations.   


Those behind the project say this change will help the Burlington Mall stay up-to-date in terms of current trends and meeting the desires of customers.


“We are going to take an antiquated department store building, which is now closed, and we are going to populate it with retail and restaurants which seems to be the way public demand is going now, towards experiential things like restaurants and entertainment,” said John Phipps, Simon Property’s Senior Vice President of Development. “They want to come to the mall and shop and eat and we want them to come and shop and eat. That is the way malls are going and you need to have experiential things to capture the customer and keep them at the property.”

Simon Property is also looking to demolish the Auto Center and create a 35,000 square foot building for small retail and restaurant locations. They will also build pedestrian-friendly connections between the two buildings and make improvements to landscaping and greenspace. One part of the plan calls for the creation of a “pocket park” where the Sears garden center was located.


Members of the Planning Board have been receptive to the project and have worked with Simon Property over the past few months to get everything in place so the project works both for the town and for the mall. Some of the conditions they set for approval included a sidewalk on Mall Road that will connect an existing sidewalk to Middlesex Turnpike as well as enhancements to sidewalks and pedestrian crosswalks on the mall property. There will also be a new bus stop in the parking lot on the side facing The District.


Board Chairman John Kelly said he was glad Simon Property had taken recommendations from the board and worked with the town on enhancements he thinks will benefit the project and residents.


“I think everyone knows mall around the country are ‘evolving,’ - a nice term for it,” he said. “We don’t want to see this one evolve into dark windows and empty buildings so we want a partnership so it’s successful.”


The proponents of the project were also asked about what types of restaurants they are hoping to attract to the renovated sections of the property, noting that many residents have expressed concern about the recent influx of “high-end” establishments.  


“Our intent is not to do fancy sit-down restaurants, we like family restaurants,” Phipps said. “We want to appeal to families and we want to create nice places to come and eat but we are not trying to attract the business credit card types. We want places where families want to come, where people can bring their kids.”


Finally, there was a lengthy discussion on whether the former Sears retail section, which will become an extension of the mall, will have an entrance directly onto the mall corridor. Currently the plans have customers entering one of the stores or restaurants that will have both indoor and outdoor access and cutting through them.


Board member Barbara L’Heaureux argued that many customers, herself included, would feel more comfortable having an entrance into the mall rather than cutting through a business. With Sears being a large retail space it was different, she said, than using a smaller business as a cut through.


“this is a wonderful new change to the mall that will help it be successful and I think this [separate entrance] will be better for both the mall and the patrons,” she said. “An if they can’t do they cane come back and we can consider a new plan.”


In the end the board voted to include a condition that the mall should first try and find a way to make an exclusive entrance part of the plans, but that if they come up with another solution they think will work for their customers there is language in the agreement saying they can apply for a “small engineering change” before the board.


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