Rebirth of RI's 1st suburban mall
A champagne cork popped behind the help desk as Planet Fitness celebrated its grand re-opening at a new location – this time amongst the growing number of retail stores in the historic Rhode Island Mall – on Tuesday afternoon with a ribbon cutting.
Personnel from the Central Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce, the mayor’s office and business franchisees Steve Eddleston and Jessica Miller were on scene with Mayor Scott Avedisian to partake in the festivities and the celebration of Rhode Island Mall’s continuing growth.
“It's sort of a re-launching of ourselves here in this new location right here in the Rhode Island Mall, which I think is a whole story into itself – what's happening here,” said Eddleston. “It's revamped itself for the next decade and hopefully the next century, which we're very excited about.”
The resurgence of the Rhode Island Mall, indeed, is a story in and of itself, as it has experienced a tumultuous but positively trending recent history since being first opened in 1967 with the distinction of being the first two-level shopping mall (the Midland Mall) in the state, and one of the first malls in the state in general.
The mall was originally set up as a “traditional” type of indoor shopping center, with Sears as its main anchor store and an interior space for patrons to walk and browse many smaller shops. However its popularity waned, and it was officially listed as a “dead mall” in 2007, meaning it had no true anchor store remaining open and high vacancy rates on the property. It officially closed access to its interior in 2011.
The mall experienced a rebirthing opportunity when Winstanley Enterprises, LLC of Concord, Mass. and Surrey Equities, LLC of New York, NY purchased a bulk of the property for $38 million in November of 2012. They had originally planned to turn the location into an outlet shopping center, a-la Wrentham Outlets in Wrentham, Mass.
However that plan never materialized, and the various properties within the mall have since been bought or leased by multiple owners. The most recent large-scale real estate company to invest in the property was MCB Real Estate LLC from Baltimore, MD, which wound up applying for and being granted variances from the city last year to erect new, large signs outside the entryways of the complex to increase visibility.
Ultimately, the city’s redevelopment strategy of the approximately 261,000 square feet parcel – assessed as a value of nearly $16.5 million as of 2016 – has focused on a retail-centric collection of big box stores – anchored by Walmart in the lower area of the mall and Kohls in the upper portion.
That growth is continuing, as Avedisian explained yesterday at Planet Fitness’s grand reopening.
“This has been a real priority of Karen Jedson in our tourism, culture and development office,” he said. “This [Planet Fitness] is the second new business this year.”
The next most recent business to open was Burlington Coat Factory, located on the lower level next to Walmart. Avedisian said on Wednesday that Dick’s Sporting Goods would be ready to open its door within a month’s time, next to Planet Fitness, and that Raymour & Flanigan would be moving in come springtime to what used to be the lower level of what had been Sears.
Coming next, according to Avedisian, would be At Home, set to take over the former upper level of Sears. The upstart home goods store has been forced to relocate from its original spot next to Home Depot after the hardware giant sued them for selling certain home improvement products of which Home Depot had a special privilege to be the sole provider of within that land parcel.
Finally, a popular California pub restaurant chain – BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse – will be moving into what used to be the Sears Automotive center before the end of the year, Avedisian said. With that occupation, the former anchor store of the original Rhode Island Mall will have all of its original spaces filled by new tenants.
“This will, but for one space, be a fully occupied Rhode Island Mall, which we haven't seen probably since the ’80s, which is incredibly exciting,” said William DePasquale, city planning director. “We're very proud to get [the mall] back on again. I go by and I see employees, I see a vibrant retail center again.”
“That's a huge amount of redevelopment into this area, so we're very excited and thankful that Rhode Island Mall continues to rebound and come back,” Avedisian continued. “When we keep adding retail space at the Warwick Mall, we know that the retail future in the state is in good shape.”
To add a positive cherry on top to the larger picture, Eddleston ended the reopening event at Planet Fitness by presenting a $1,000 check to Erin Gilliat, who runs the East Providence Boys & Girls Club but was representing all of the Rhode Island clubs at the event.
“On behalf of all seven Boys and Girls Clubs in RI and the 25,000 kids we serve, I'm certainly thankful,” she said. “But this is honestly the tip of the iceberg of what Planet Fitness and Jessica and Steve Miller have done for the clubs here in RI. From Coats for Kids this fall, to the most amazing gift drive I have ever seen in my 15 years in the nonprofit sector, this is probably one of the most generous corporate entities that I have had the pleasure of working with.”
Gilliat said that the donation will go towards providing better training for their volunteers, and since it came from Planet Fitness it will be geared towards the club’s physical activity programming.