Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Merrimack outlet mall work begins

Marking the latest major step in a six-year saga, the first signs of construction on a new outlet mall were on display Monday.

Some heavy equipment could be seen from the Industrial Drive entrance of what will be Merrimack Premium Outlets, a $100 million complex of retail and home-goods stores.

The work that started Monday – tree-clearing and surface-level soil work – is preliminary, said Michele Rothstein, senior vice president of marketing for Premium Outlets. Premium Outlets, a division of Simon Property Group, was formerly known as Chelsea Property Group.

An official ground-breaking, which would kick off heavy-duty construction, is being planned for September, she said. The company expects to open in 2012.  

“The message is, this is a real project,” Rothstein said. “We’re coming to Merrimack and we’re excited, as we have been for some time.”

The town Planning Board approved the outlet mall in the fall of 2008, after years of tension with some neighbors who opposed the work and ardent support from some who anticipated an economic boost. At that time, Premium Outlets expected to break ground within six months.

Company officials said last fall that the economy was “one factor” in how the construction timeline stretched out.

On Monday, Rothstein said outlet malls have, of late, “been holding their own,” and that the Premium Outlets is “synching up as the economy is slowly moving in a more positive way.”

“We never say what we do is recession-proof,” Rothstein said. “Nobody is recession-proof. But the outlets have been a retail segment that a lot of shoppers have taken a fresh look at. People have said, ‘I don’t clip coupons and I don’t go bargain hunting.’ Now, they are.”

As far as the preliminary work, there’s not a whole lot to see, Rothstein said.

“People are at work, but it’s not something you can see from miles away,” she said. “It’s not massive construction … It’s going to be relatively minor and short-lived.”

The work is tied to an agreement the company made with the town that calls for some “disturbance of land” to take the property out of current use by June 30, said Town Manager Keith Hickey.

Hickey is expecting a letter officially pulling the land out of this low-tax state this week. At that point, the town will mail a $950,000 land use change tax bill to the company, which is due 30 days after billing.

Even though the payment won’t likely arrive until July, the money will be applied to the 2009-10 fiscal year, which ends June 30, Hickey said.

Of the $950,000, half will go to the town Conservation Commission – which gets half of all land use change taxes – and the other half will go to the town, Hickey said.

The project has been refined to 390,000 square feet of retail space for its first phase, which would house 100 or so shops, Rothstein said. That number may fluctuate if a tenant wants to occupy a larger space.

Leasing to various tenants “is going well,” she said, adding that “we’re not announcing names until we get leases done.”

Dimeo Construction of Massachusetts has been hired as the general contractor on the project. Dimeo, which worked on the construction of the 170-store Wrentham Village Premium Outlets project and many other retail, academic, corporate projects across New England, is now bidding out portions of the project, Rothstein. She expects the project to employ some 500 construction workers.

No comments:

Post a Comment