September 11, 2017
FOCUS: Real Estate/Architecture

Westfarms' retail boulevard preps for new competition

Rendering | Contributed
Rendering | Contributed
Renderings of Corbin Collection in West Hartford, whose tenants include burger joint Shake Shack and outdoor retailer REI, which is moving from Blue Back Square.
Rendering | Contributed
PHOTO | Greg Bordonaro
Construction crews are working to renovate Corbin Collection’s facade.

Corbin Collection Tenants

• Cost Plus World Market

• Shake Shack

• buybuy Baby

• Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th

• REI

Source: Seritage Growth Properties

Soon, the competition will get even more intense. Next spring, West Hartford's Corbins Corner will become the Corbin Collection, a new shopping center at 1445 New Britain Ave. across from Westfarms mall.

Construction on the $27 million project is well underway as crews transform Sears' former home into a modern shopping plaza. The most noticeable construction currently underway is work updating the building's facade, which dates back to the 1960s.

The developer, Seritage Growth Properties of New York City, has already lined up several big tenants for the approximately 185,000-square-foot property. They include names like Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th, milkshake and burger chain Shake Shack and food bazaar Cost Plus World Market. Outdoor retailer REI, which is relocating its store in Blue Back Square, will also be a tenant.

But with retailers like Sears, Kmart and J.C. Penney closing nationwide and more people shopping on their electronic devices, it begs the question: How can another brick-and-mortar shopping center succeed in an already crowded marketplace?

Seritage officials declined to be interviewed for this story, but in a written statement the company said:

"While e-commerce is certainly a factor that we take into consideration when developing our retail destinations, we work vigorously to promote a merchandise mix that matches consumer needs from a local perspective."

Westfarms and West Hartford town officials downplayed the notion that the market is oversaturated, arguing the addition of more, complementary retailers will simply bring additional shoppers to the area, and benefit all.

Town Community Development Director Mark McGovern acknowledges that online sales are increasing, but he insists "they are not going to replace brick-and-mortar retail."

"Retail follows retail," McGovern said, "and that's becoming a very strong retail area. It's an ideal location off of I-84. Customers at Westfarms are going to bring customers to Saks on 5th and vice-versa. Westfarms is performing very well; so, putting some top tenants into Corbin Collection is a plus for everybody."

Westfarms General Manager Kevin Keenan said Westfarms "welcomes Corbin Collection to the neighborhood. We hope that its addition to this already vibrant retail area will benefit all the surrounding businesses. Retailers announced for this project complement those in the existing shopping centers, including Westfarms. They further enhance the area as a premiere shopping destination."

That being said, there will be some overlap. For example, Shake Shake will be competing with Red Robin, a burger joint located within the same plaza. There's also a nearby McDonald's and two Burger Kings, including one in the mall itself.

Westfarms mall hasn't always greeted new competition kindly. Its parent company, Taubman, waged a heated legal and political fight last decade to try to block the $150 million Blue Back Square development, which it feared would eat into its customer base. They lost that battle and were forced to pay Blue Back a $34 million settlement for financial losses accrued as a result of lawsuits delaying construction.

Corbin Collection, however, is a much smaller project.

McGovern said when Seritage bought the Sears Store and Auto Center in Nov. 2016 the company had the option to keep Sears open, close it or develop something else.

"Redevelopment is not a new approach to Seritage," McGovern said, "though it's the first project of this kind the company has done in Connecticut."

Seritage, which didn't receive tax incentives from the town for its project, owns 258 retail properties and has completed similar projects in Hawaii, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia.

As part of the reconfiguration, Seritage will add 52 more parking spaces for a total 1,683 spaces. Sidewalks will be built on New Britain Avenue to encourage pedestrian walk-ins. A study done on the project area revealed little significant impact on traffic.

McGovern said a key reason REI is leaving Blue Back Square is the square's parking facilities." Based on the kind of [outdoor] products REI sells, the garages at Blue Back Square presented a challenge," he said.

According to McGovern, Seritage's goal is to transform the Sears property into a first-class shopping and social destination that adds value to the community.

"They want to complement what Westfarms is already offering West Hartford shoppers," he said.

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