Updated at 5:17 p.m.
WESTFIELD, NJ — What exactly is next for 11 sites in downtown Westfield — including a vacant movie theater and an expansive department store that is going out of business — remains to be determined, but town officials have approved a general plan for what they will allow to be put in those spots.
Last week, the town council approved 8-1 a redevelopment plan for the properties and heard from the municipality’s largest taxpayer, Hudson’s Bay Company, on what that company intends for its properties: the site of the Lord & Taylor department store and two nearby parking lots.
“They are not just a developer looking to make an easy financial return and then exit,” said Mayor Shelley Brindle, introducing representatives for Hudson’s Bay Company at the Nov. 10 meeting, during which the town approved the plan also applying to eight town-owned parking lots in the downtown. “They are our largest stakeholder with an understanding of our history and a vested interest in the long-term success of our downtown.”
While the main question — what specifically will be next for the Lord & Taylor site in Westfield — is not one that was answered at the meeting, executives for Hudson’s Bay Company, which owns the property and the real estate development firm Streetworks Development, owned by Hudson’s Bay, explained that their goal to redevelop the properties started in 2008 when Hudson’s Bay Company merged with Lord & Taylor.
“We didn’t come to Westfield with any pre-existing specific redevelopment plan,” said Richard Baker, governor and executive chairman of Hudson’s Bay. “We came because we had an interest here. We had a responsibility to do the right thing here and there was tremendous opportunity. There’s opportunity in retail. There’s opportunity in office. There’s opportunity in residential.”
While Hudson’s Bay owns 55 million square feet of retail space nationwide, its ability to redevelop is limited, Baker said.
“We don’t have the ability to develop all of them,” he said. “We had made a commitment — a long-term commitment to focus on Westfield and other communities — where we’re going to put our biggest effort. Some other locations might get sold … but in Westfield, we view a big long-term partnership.”
Richard Heapes, a senior vice president with Streetworks, described the types of development his company has worked on, and what could be in the works for Westfield, included “mixed use” development — that which includes both residential and commercial.
“We’re not talking about giant developments,” Heape said. “We’re talking about a large amount of small developments done in a guided way.”
While he noted that opposition to residential development is common, Heapes also spoke in support of it, saying, “you can’t have neighborhoods without neighbors.”
“You know what a downtown without residential looks like,” he said. “It’s dead at 6 o’clock, and it’s not beloved because you don’t have neighbors.”
Detailing a series of developments his firm has worked on, he focused in on West Hartford, Connecticut, a community that Streetworks worked with to redevelop a neighborhood of about 12 years ago.
“Please know that that’s what we’re looking to do,” Heapes said, before playing a video that details the success of Blue Back Square, a website for which describes the areas “a unique shopping, living, dining and entertainment destination.”
Heapes detailed parts of the town’s master reexamination consistent with type of mixed use development his firm is looking toward. However, one resident speaking at the meeting noted a portion of the report indicating a resistance to the concept.
“Developers see Westfield as an opportunity to build these smaller-scale housing units in the form of apartments. Current residents do not view these developments as favorable,” said Bill West, a resident of Westfield.
Councilman Mark LoGrippo, who voted against the redevelopment plan, asked about what the impact of the residential development under consideration could be on schools.
Heapes discussed managing those impacts and hinted at the possibility of housing that could be affordable toward seniors who are downsizing.
“There are impacts that need to be managed and thoughtful,” he said. “In Westfield I see a tremendous opportunity for the citizens. ... Who says you shouldn’t be able to come back and live where you grew up?”
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