An Urban Mall Attempts A Transformation | WAMC

An Urban Mall Attempts A Transformation

Dec 9, 2019

The Tower Square Mall in downtown Springfield was built almost 50 years ago. With few retailers left tenants now include two satellite college campuses, the downtown branch of Greater Springfield YMCA, and soon a craft brewery and taproom.
Credit WAMC

     With the retail sector changing as more and more shopping is done online, urban malls are closing and in some places being torn down too.   A once bustling shopping mall in downtown Springfield, Massachusetts is undergoing a transformation.

    Recently, dozens of people gathered for a ribbon-cutting to welcome a new tenant to the Tower Square Mall.

     The YMCA of Greater Springfield opened a fitness center in the upper level of the mall near the food court.  Mayor Domenic Sarno said the presence of the Y and its nearly 1,000 members brings new vitality to Tower Square.

   "I think this is a fantastic opporunity that continues to transform Tower Square and move the city of Springfield forward," said Sarno.

    The Tower Square complex, which includes a 28-story office tower and parking garage was purchased last year for $7 million by a group of investors. Managing partner Vid Mitta said they’ve had good success signing new tenants.

   "I wish (the best) for YMCA and I would like to keep the momentum going and bring more tenants like this," said Mitta.

    For decades after Tower Square opened in 1969 it was a shopping mecca, but as with most malls, retailers have vanished,

       The focus of the new owners has been to attract tenants that can offer services to the people who work in the office tower and elsewhere downtown, according to Tower Square general manager Fred Christensen.

   " And a business that brings people in like the Y is a perfect homerun for us," said Christensen.

     Space that was once occupied by retailers now has satellite campuses for the University of Massachusetts and Cambridge College.

     "This is not so much of a retail center as it is a downtown community activity center," said Christensen.

     Next year, a craft brewer and taproom are scheduled to open in Tower Square.

     "We would love to have some more traditional retail, but in this day and age it is hard to get that type of tenant in a downtown city like Springfield with the population it has and the traffic it has," said Christensen.

     Unable to afford the increasing cost to maintain its building on Chestnut Street in downtown Springfield, Y officials began searching for a new location and agreed to lease 30,000 square-feet in Tower Square, according to Dexter Johnson, the president of the Springfield Y.

   " As we were looking for a new opportunity, the new ownership at Tower Square was really eager to have a tenant like the Y in here," said Johnson, who added, "There just a lot of good activity going on here in Tower Square."

    In addition to the fitness center, the Y moved its childcare programs and administrative offices to Tower Square.