Brockton’s Westgate Mall could have brighter future under new owner
When Westgate Mall made its official debut on Feb. 24, 1965, it was the first climate-controlled shopping center in Massachusetts.
Soon, retail stores were moving from dense downtown centers to sprawling sites off major highways and other indoor malls opened — in Braintree, Hanover, Kingston, Taunton — giving Westgate its share of ups and downs over the past four decades.
Now, the big trend in malls is the “open air, lifestyle shopping center,” where patrons walk outdoors between stores in a plaza with a village look. Those have arrived in Wrentham, Hingham and Dedham.
The venerable Westgate Mall, off Route 24, sometimes struggled but has survived the competition.
And now, according to a retail expert and a city councilor, the mall could get another lease on life when it goes on the auction block Wednesday after being foreclosed by Bank of America
The current mall owner, Australia-based Babcock & Brown, went into bankruptcy earlier this year.
A new owner might have more access to credit and a larger budget for the mall, said Doug Fleener, president and managing partner at Dynamic Experiences Group, a Lexington-based retail consulting firm.
“Having a new owner, an active owner, hopefully will be a good thing,” Fleener said.
The 12-acre, enclosed mall on Westgate Drive is a retail hub for the Brockton area, boasting stores that include Macy’s, Sears, Marshalls, Best Buy and Old Navy.
Though the mall is far from failing — sales are fairly strong and its occupancy rate is high — there could be some improvements, said Ward 7 Councilor Chris MacMillan.
Among them: construction of the planned 12-screen movie theater and a full-fledged food court, MacMillan said.
“If the money’s there, the sky’s the limit,” he said. “There could be a lot of possibilities.”
The mall’s financial condition is not the reason for the foreclosure, mall general manager Luciano Villani has said.
Sales are down only slightly amid the poor economy, he said, and the mall is 94 percent occupied — though one store, Waldenbooks, will close by the end of January.
“I think that’s a very good (occupancy) rate,” said Fleener, the retail consultant. “The national average is probably a tad lower than that.”
But there have been recent setbacks.
A much-anticipated 12-screen movie theater was originally set to start construction at the mall last spring, but has stalled due to lack of financing, MacMillan said.
The project, proposed by Dedham-based National Amusements, could perhaps be revived through help from a new owner, MacMillan said.
“It would be a great investment,” he said.
The mall also lacks a full-scale, centralized food court, which the city councilor believes could help the mall be more competitive with other local shopping centers. Right now, food services at Westgate are at individual eateries.
The auction of the Westgate Mall also comes at a time when the newer shopping centers, the so-called “lifestyle centers,” pose additional competition.
Malls including Patriot Place in Foxboro and Legacy Place in Dedham, which opened this summer, claim to provide a “destination” shopping experience by offering open-air areas, specialty shops and restaurants.
Older shopping centers, such as Westgate, “have to continue to evolve if they’re going to survive,” Fleener said.
The auction of the 49-acre mall is scheduled to take place at 11 a.m. Wednesday in a parking lot next to Modell’s sporting goods.
Babcock & Brown had bought the mall in 2007 as part of its purchase of the assets of Gregory Greenfield and Associates Ltd. of Atlanta. That company had bought the mall for $58.5 million in 2004.
The mall has been foreclosed for “breach of conditions” of the mortgage, according to a legal notice. Westgate underwent several improvements over the years, including a facelift in 1977, an expansion in 1985 and a major overhaul completed in October 2000.
Kyle Alspach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.