Brockton’s Westgate Mall outpacing other malls
While many malls in the region struggle with high vacancy rates this holiday season, the Westgate Mall is enjoying the lowest rate of empty shops in the area.
But the mall still has plenty of room to improve, perhaps under a new owner, say local shoppers and officials. The shopping center will go on the auction block Friday after its owner defaulted on a loan payment.
“I like the mall, I hope it never goes away,” said Mary Kendall, 56, of Bridgewater. “But I would like to see it go up (to a second) level, to get more stores in there.”
Her son, Gabe Boatwright, who went Christmas shopping with her at the mall Monday afternoon, said the mall “definitely” needs one major change: a food court.
“The only food you got there is Subway and Popeyes,” said the 31-year-old Brockton resident, who brought along his 1-year-old son to the mall.
Boatwright also said he has to travel to other malls in the area, such as Silver City Galleria in Taunton and South Shore Plaza in Braintree, to get all of his Christmas shopping done because of the limited number of stores at the smaller Westgate Mall.
“If all those stores were here, we wouldn’t have to travel,” he said.
Still, Westgate is outperforming many other local malls when it comes to occupancy rate, a key indicator of a mall’s financial health.
The vacancy rate is 6 percent at Westgate, according to mall General Manager Luciano Villani.
By comparison, the vacancy rate is 26 percent at Colony Place in Plymouth, 12 percent at Independence Mall in Kingston and 8 percent at South Shore Plaza, according to figures provided by the malls.
The Hanover Mall and Shops at 5 in Plymouth have vacancy rates of about 7 percent. The management at Silver City Galleria refused to provide the mall’s vacancy rate.
The vacancies come as consumer spending dipped in the recession and retailers shuttered unprofitable stores.
“You have more retailers vying for a smaller pool of demand than there was just a year or two ago,” said Suzanne Mulvee, real estate strategist for Boston-based retail consultancy Portfolio and Property Research.
Villani said the mall has stayed strong due to its mix of stores and its location just off Route 24.
“We basically cater to everybody,” Villani said. “And we’re convenient to so many communities.”
Westgate has been through many ups and downs over the decades since it opened in 1965 — prior to the malls in Braintree, Hanover, Kingston and Taunton — but has always managed to survive the competition.
The mall underwent several improvements over the years, including a facelift in 1977, an expansion in 1985 and a major overhaul completed in October 2000.
Villani said there are currently no plans for a major expansion, such as a second floor or a food court.
“The current size of the mall is perfect for this market,” Villani said, adding that there are discussions with three eateries about coming to the mall.
Though Westgate is older than other local malls, it continues to attract shoppers from around the Brockton area, such as Jackie and Les Thompson of Rockland.
The couple said they were drawn by the mall’s Old Navy store, where they sought gifts for a niece on Monday.
“Some malls are more glitzy,” said Jackie Thompson, 50. “But for me they don’t have more to offer than this place.”
Westgate has not been immune to the troubled economy, though.
The mall will soon lose its only bookstore, Waldenbooks, when it closes by the end of January.
Villani said the closure would raise the mall’s vacancy rate by less than 1 percent.
Meanwhile, Circuit City, located across the street from the mall, closed in January and remains vacant. The store and others along Westgate Drive aren’t part of the mall property.
The Westgate Mall is set to be auctioned after its owner, Australia-based Babcock & Brown, went into bankruptcy earlier this year and defaulted on a loan.
The 49-acre mall was foreclosed by Bank of America in October. Friday’s auction is set for 2 p.m. in a parking lot next to Modell’s sporting goods. The mall previously sold for $58.5 million in 2004.
Villani said new ownership would not affect shoppers.
Still, a new owner might have more access to credit and a larger budget for the mall, said Doug Fleener, president of Dynamic Experiences Group, a retail consulting firm in Lexington.
City officials such as Ward 7 City Councilor Chris MacMillan have said they would welcome improvements such as a second level and a food court.
Officials also hope to restart the project to build a 12-screen movie theater. The project, first proposed by Dedham-based National Amusements, was originally set to start construction at the mall last spring, but has stalled.
Vacancy rates at local malls:
- Colony Place, Plymouth 26 percent.
- Independence Mall, Kingston 12 percent.
- South Shore Plaza, Braintree 8 percent.
- Hanover Mall, Hanover, 7.2 percent.
- The Shops at 5, Plymouth 7 percent.
- Westgate Mall, Brockton, 6 percent.
-Silver City Galleria, Taunton N/A (withheld by mall).
Kyle Alspach can be reached at email@example.com. Material from Gatehouse Media was used in this report.