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WORCESTER, MA-Berkeley Investments Inc. closed on its acquisition of the Worcester Common Outlets, a one-million-sf outlet mall at 100 Front St. adjacent to Route 290. The Boston-based developer—-which acquired the property from Hartford, CT-based Cigna Investment Inc.–says that the closing signals the first step in “the major redevelopment of Worcester’s Downtown area, which will reconnect the site with other city landmarks such as City Hall and Union Station.” The developer declined to be specific about the financial details of the sale other than to say, through a spokesperson, that they paid in the low $30-million range.

The property currently consists of 20 acres upon which sits a 750,000-sf mall that has struggled to keep its retail stores occupied. The property was originally built in 1971 as the Galleria Mall and then was redeveloped into the Worcester Common Fashion Outlets in 1994. In 1996 the name of the two-level, 126 outlet center, was changed to Worcester Common Outlets.

The Berkeley proposal calls for tearing down 75% of the existing mall and developing 1.6 million sf of new construction to replace the retail center which will ultimately result in a two-million-sf development of housing, retail and office space on the site. A spokesperson for the developer emphasizes that because of the property’s proximity to public transportation and other essential infrastructure, it is a prime example of smart growth–a cornerstone of Gov. Mitt Romney’s administration. The development is scheduled to be completed in phases over the next five years.

The project also involves a new medical office building that will connect to Worcester Medical Center via a pedestrian walkway. The proposal also calls for a number of infrastructure improvements including new streets and pedestrian walkways designed to connect Downtown. According to the developer’s spokesperson, the mall now separates Worcester Downtown from Union Station, but the new development will open up that connection.

The developer is also emphasizing that what makes this project different from other attempts to revitalize Downtown is the support the project is receiving from City Hall. Acting city manager Michael V. O’Brien says, “We look forward to working closely with them to truly transform the face of Worcester’s Downtown.”

The development is the first to utilize the state’s District Improvement Financing program. The DIF program was designed to encourage communities and developers to work together to revitalize blighted buildings and parcels of land that have little value or even negative value, and create new mixed-use developments to spur economic growth.

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