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Potential buyers approach Newton officials about Atrium Mall

Posted by Leslie Anderson  June 1, 2012 06:44 PM

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At least half a dozen potential Atrium Mall buyers have approached Newton officials over the past few months to discuss potential uses for the struggling retail complex on Route 9, city officials said Friday.

The interest comes as the boutique shopping center in Chestnut Hill continues to shed tenants.

Bertucci’s is the latest to close shop at the Atrium, a spokeswoman for Simon Property Group confirmed Friday.

The suitors have sought general information about what kinds of commercial uses are allowed at the Atrium, noted Candace Havens, the city’s planning director, in an interview Friday.

Mayor Setti Warren said the inquiries, combined with other major retail developments nearby on Route 9, have made him optimistic about the Atrium’s future.

“It is always a positive sign when you get these inquiries about what the possibilities are,” he said.

So far, Simon, which put the mall up for sale early in the year, has shown no inclination that it plans to redevelop the property on its own, Havens said.

Simon has not filed any development plans with the city, said Havens, who said she had reached out to the national mall owner and developer more than once.

“Simon Property Group does not comment on the sales, acquisitions or dispositions of its properties,” Les Morris, the public relations manager for Simon Property Group, said in an e-mail to the Globe.

Havens said the questions from potential buyers were fairly standard and have focused on what can and can’t be done with the property under Newton zoning rules.

Between six and 10 potential buyers and/or their representatives have either met with city officials or had discussions with them, Havens estimated. Without any major zoning changes, a new owner could add small restaurants, a bank, and offices, including medical office space, she indicated.

A new owner could also add housing, lab space or a hotel, among other uses, but would need to first get a special permit from the city, Havens noted in an email.

She said she is not worried about the mall’s viability, pointing to major revamps of other nearby Route 9 shopping centers.

The Chestnut Hill Shopping Center is being renovated by WS Development, with plans for an upscale movie theater in the old Macy’s store. And Wegmans will be moving into the Chestnut Hill Square shopping center taking shape where the old Omni Foods once stood.

“The city feels optimistic about the developments that are occurring now in that corridor,” Warren said.

Still, Atrium is fast becoming a ghost town, with Borders Books & Music and several other long-time tenants having jumped ship over the past few months. The list of stores that have pulled includes Tiffany & Co. Williams-Sonoma, Abercrombie & Fitch, as well as the Gap and GapKids.

It is a situation that Warren said city officials are monitoring and a far cry from when the Atrium first opened in 1989, when it stood a cut above more traditional malls with boutique shops and a deluxe feel that catered to high-end shoppers.

“We will continue to monitor the progress in the coming weeks and months,” Warren said.

Scott B. Van Voorhis can be reached at sbvanvoorhis@hotmail.com.

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