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Change In Zoning Law Paves Way For Marijuana Cultivation At Empty Mall Store

A change in zoning laws has been approved that could lead to a marijuana cultivation business in a large shopping mall in western Massachusetts.

The owners of the Eastfield Mall, which was the region’s first enclosed shopping center when it was built in 1967, sought the change as part of an ambitious plan to redevelop the sagging property.

Cannaworld proposed putting a retail store and cultivation facility inside a two-story 127,000-square foot building at the mall that once housed a Macy’s store. 

Mary Hurley, an attorney representing the owners of the mall, told the Springfield City Council the marijuana operation is a catalyst for a $200 million mixed-use redevelopment plan that includes housing.

"We are looking to revitalize the entire mall and this will help substantially to do that," said Hurley

The Eastfield Mall occupies 87-acres on Boston Road – the city’s busy commercial corridor. But the number of retailers at the mall has decreased in recent years.  In addition to Macy’s, JCPenney and Sears closed locations there.

Hurley, a former Springfield mayor, said there are still about 50 tenants in the mall.

" (The mall) is the (city's) third largest taxpayer," said Hurley.

Because of a buffer zone requirement, there is little likelihood that marijuana cultivation could happen in other parts of Springfield, according to Phil Dromey, the city’s deputy director of planning.

" By having this change, it really only opens the door for that one specific location at the mall," said Dromey.

Before Cannaworld could proceed with its plans for the former Macy’s store it would need a special permit from the City Council and a license from the state Cannabis Control Commission.

Springfield City Councilor Adam Gomez said marijuana cultivation and manufacturing could provide good-paying jobs.

"Retailers hire only 15 people maybe, while this faclity could hire up to 200," said Gomez. "These are the kind of opportunities we are trying to create."

Mayor Domenic Sarno has said he wants to see how marijuana retailers fare in Springfield, before inviting cultivation businesses into the city.  

Three cannabis companies have secured local permits and are planning to open stores in Springfield.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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