Across the country, stores are closing and entire shopping malls are being shuttered. In Amherst, a major developer is planning to spend tens of millions of dollars to turn Northtown Plaza into a lifestyle mall. Some town officials see that as a vote of confidence in Amherst as a place to do business.
"It says that it's very positive."
Amherst Supervisor Barry Weinstein may be leaving office at the end of the year, but he lives in Amherst and wants to see it do well. He approves WS Development's plan to turn the fading Northtown Plaza into an upscale lifestyle plaza.
WS has already opened the Whole Foods store in one of the planned buildings on the site, although it needs a lot of variances from the Zoning Board of Appeals to construct the multi-building plan. Outgoing Deputy Supervisor Steven Sanders said it is a multi-million dollar plan with some risks to other plazas.
"If retailers from Boulevard Mall leave to go to this lifestyle mall, well then, all you're just doing is moving around the deck chairs on the Titanic," Sanders said. "You still have an existing problem with retail in the long term and the question is how does that affect the Boulevard Mall, which is a part of the reason why we would never consider giving them any sort of incentives because this is a retail project that just doesn't qualify for incentives."
Sanders said the town rejected a request for a $5 million incentive to build an even bigger Northtown, because the town stays away from retail incentives. Still, he agreed the plan to morph the plaza is a positive sign for Amherst.
"I've always said that Amherst is a great place to live and work and that's one of the reasons why the population of the Town of Amherst and the assessed value of the Town of Amherst continue to grow, outpacing the rest of the county," Sanders said.
Town Clerk Marjory Jaeger is a Republican candidate to replace the retiring Weinstein. Jaeger sees the new Northtown as good for the town, as well.
"It sure does," Jaeger said. "Amherst has been a destination not only for raising families, going to school here, great school districts, but it's also a destination for shoppers."
Jaeger said upscale stores like L.L. Bean are what the town needs and what the town has to pursue.