NATICK, MA-A town meeting approved the zoning change that will allow the Natick Mall to expand into the adjacent Tech Commons on Speen St. The $450-million project will result in a two-million-sf shopping center.

Saris Sarkisian, Natick’s town planner, tells that the rezoning means General Growth Properties, which developed the current 1.6 million-sf Natick Mall, can move forward on the mall expansion project. Sarkisian points out that Tech Commons, which is located in the former Wonder Bread factory, was zoned “industrial 2,” which allows for hotel and business development but not retail use. The rezoning creates a mall center district overlay on the site.

“The big hurdle was getting the zoning passed,” says Sarkisian, who points out that the town was very careful to create zoning on the site that would allow the mall to be built but prevent a big box store from taking over the site should the mall fail. As Sarkisian notes, the town has been burnt with this site before. Tech Commons, developed by Rose Associates, LLC, was supposed to be a “major” high-tech center, says Sarkisian. But, the recession came and “the deals never happened. It was one of the bigger disappointments.”

Chicago-based General Growth has been negotiating with a number of anchor stores to move into the new space. The company did not return calls by press time, but Sarkisian says that among the stores the company is talking to are Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom’s and Saks Fifth Avenue. He emphasizes that the company is looking to create an upscale mall.

Sarkisian adds that part of the company’s long- term plans for the site is a Ritz-Carlton hotel, which would be built on top of the expansion. But he notes that because of the current difficulty in securing financing for hotel projects, it is still unclear when that would be built.

“We’re really excited about this project,” says Sarkisian. “It’s a great redevelopment opportunity that will benefit the whole region.”

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