The Rhode Island Mall will be back in business in the near future thanks to two developers who just purchased the formerly vacant building for $38 million.
Originally opened in 1967, the Midland Mall was New England’s first two-story enclosed shopping center. In the mid-1980s, it was renamed the Rhode Island Mall, and closed its doors in April of 2011. Since then, the mall has been void of stores (aside from the anchors of Sears, Wal-Mart and Kohl’s) and sealed off to the public. But just two week ago, Winstanley Enterprises of Concord, Mass., and Surrey Equities of New York, N.Y., finalized their purchase of the space. The sale consists of 225,000 square feet of retail space, including Wal-Mart and Kohl’s. Sears owns their own store, but Wal-Mart and Kohl’s are in long-term lease agreements.
Adam Winstanley, founder of Winstanley Enterprises, said the rent paid by Kohl’s and Wal-Mart will help to fund the renovation of the former mall.
Winstanley’s group is no stranger to revitalizing vacant properties, and has several completed and ongoing projects – they own and operate 43 buildings (approximately 5.5 million square feet) throughout New England. Surrey Equities, LLC is a real estate investment and management firm.
Winstanley said the Rhode Island Mall was brought to his attention over the summer, and he has been actively looking at the property and surrounding areas for about three months. Winstanley said he spent a lot of time driving around Warwick and neighboring Cranston to determine whether or not the mall had potential.
“This is a great area with a lot of vibrancy,” he said.
After a brief visit to the Warwick Planning Department on Nov. 6, Winstanley decided to make a move and purchase the two-story enclosed mall.
Rhode Islanders have been reacting positively to the news, sounding off on Facebook about the prospect of new jobs, an economic boost and the re-opening of a favorite shopping spot.
Mayor Scott Avedisian sees the mall’s renaissance as indicative of the city’s economic future.
“First of all, the $38 million sale is good news for the city and the state,” he said. “The 225 construction jobs that will be created, the 150 full-time and part-time jobs that will be created in retail services, and the renovations to the exterior and interior of the mall are all exciting developments. Coupled with new stores on Route 2 and the expansion of the Warwick Mall, we are well suited to take advantage of the rebounding economy.”
He wishes the developers the best of luck and success.
Now that the purchase agreement is finalized, Winstanley’s plan is to gut the inside of the mall and reconstruct it, changing the layout to accommodate two to four large, anchor stores instead of dozens of smaller shops.
“Warwick Mall has become very successful,” he said, noting that they already fill the demand for small retail spaces and convenient, one-stop shopping for customers. “It would be hard for us … to go head to head.”
Instead, Winstanley sees the potential to attract larger retailers that are not yet present in the area, though he said it was premature to name any specifically.
Depending on retailer demands, Winstanley said the building could house either two or four large stores.
“What doesn’t work is trying to bring it back as a mall,” he said.
The preliminary phases of the project will continue over the next six to nine months, but Winstanley said people shouldn’t expect to see the mall re-open for at least two years. He said it will take at least a year to design and plan out the project and at least another year for construction.
The mall was previously only by GLL Real Estate Partners from Orlando, Fla., who was in a long-term lease agreement with Stop & Shop. The supermarket company leased out the interior mall space to put a halt on Wal-Mart’s potential expansion into a Super Wal-Mart (which includes a grocery department) and therefore enter into direct competition with their nearby stores. Winstanley believes Stop & Shop had the intention of opening their own market inside the mall, but never made the move. He said he has a “great working relationship” with Stop & Shop, and was able to come to an agreement regarding their lease, and said they’re negotiating a buyout. Still, Winstanley said Stop & Shop would be “part of the redevelopment strategy.”
Winstanley isn’t a stranger to Rhode Island. Their local projects include the acquisition and redevelopment of the former Hasbro Warehouse in Pawtucket and the two pieces of property in an East Providence industrial park.