It’s a study of contrasts: The New England states of Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire are home to some of the oldest cities and towns in the United States.
But this historic area is seeing examples of the latest retail formats, as lifestyle and neighborhood-center builders find opportunities in a solid, affluent region.
“It’s an attractive market, an established market,” said Andrew Couch, VP of investments in the Boston office of Jacksonville, Fla.-based Regency Centers. The developer opened the office in 2006 to expand throughout New England.
The small, densely populated region has always been difficult for developers, with tales of decades-long efforts to build regional malls in the 1970s and 1980s common. Now, the trend toward open-air lifestyle centers, more in keeping with the area’s historic towns, is attracting the attention of some once-leery municipalities. Other challenges, including geography, are a bit harder to deal with. Yet builders are finding opportunities.
“Any development project is about looking at the right center in each case that dovetails with the markets’ needs,” said Deborah Black, VP of marketing and public affairs of Newton, Mass.-based New England Development, which has built in the region for decades.
Not surprisingly, the areas nearest to Boston are seeing the greatest interest, offering the irresistible combination of healthy incomes and comparatively little competition.
“In general, it’s somewhat under-retailed,” said Leo Ullman, CEO of Port Washington, N.Y.-based Cedar Shopping Centers, which is acquiring and developing centers in Eastern Massachusetts and Connecticut. The company is particularly interested in markets within 50 miles of Boston. “There are stable patterns and a stable economy. Even the suburbs and exurbs are strong.”
Cedar, which focuses on neighborhood centers, is working on a 30,000-sq.-ft. to 50,000-sq.-ft. expansion of The Shops at Suffolk Downs in Revere, Mass., anchored by Stop & Shop.
“[Our opportunities] are very much in infill properties that will provide development and acquisition properties,” Ullman said.
The problem, developers note, is that the most attractive markets