Blue Back Part II? Redeveloping Bishops Corner

Just what is going on in the West Hartford neighborhood of Bishops Corner? First, Barnes and Noble closed and opened a new chapter at Blue Back Square. Then, Petco (Supplies & Fish) ran away. Finally, the Macaroni Grill said ciao after their lease wasn’t renewed. You don’t need to have a PhD in development to surmise that someone has plans for the area. Why else would you turn away a productive, paying tenant when you already had 2 vacant stores of substantial square footage? The landlord is still paying taxes on those properties, even as they sit vacant…

So, it was really no surprise when the Courant reported this morning that the developer, Edens & Avant, is expected to unveil major redevelopment plans as early as this spring. Apparently the firm is in preliminary talks with town officials and the project is leaning towards a walkable town center feel, with 1 or 2 large tenants, and the remainder of space being filled with smaller shops. Rumor has it that the project could cost as much as $100 million. Sounds kind of like Blue Back Square, eh?

Here are some thoughts from my end…

1. Kudos to Edens & Avant for working with town officials on the plan. I’m sure the town has a whole dumpster of “lessons learned” from the Blue Back development, so collaborating early will probably save both sides some work and contenscious discussions later on.

2. How will this development complement what has already been built at Blue Back Square? How much business will it cannibalize? What about West Farms and Elmwood?

3. Will this new development further hinder downtown Hartford’s efforts to attract buyers and renters, revitalizing housing and retail in the city center?

4. People in West Hartford are already rumbling about a difficult budget season. Will another substantial retail development help offset the tax burden on home owners in town?

5. And the question on everyone’s mind…who is going to pay for this? Will the town need to issue more bonds?

Hopefully when the plans are unveiled this spring, it will be an aesthetically pleasing, walkable development with stores that cater to a variety of income levels. We’ll keep a close eye on this one…

9 thoughts on “Blue Back Part II? Redeveloping Bishops Corner

  1. Great questions and what an exciting piece of news this is. The zoning for commercial space at Bishop’s Corner allowed for a sea of parking lots to overtake all the frontage, and new form-based codes are sweeping the nation in spaces like this, encouraging more friendly, street-level appeal that can thereby encourage people to walk and allows for a more attractive aesthetic, too, along with all the benefits of more people walking.

    The destination seems to be thriving, from what I can tell, but that’s only anecdotal. Do you think there is a potential for the businesses to cannibalize others, based on the notion that more retail – maybe a significant anchor – will be added?

    I do wonder if the developers will aim to try for something a bit different from Blue Back, or if it will be very similar, with respect to the types of destination stores offered.

    My favorite shop at Bishop’s Corner is Lox Stock & Bagels – offering the best bagels I’ve found in the area so far. Will the new proposal affect that side of the area, or only the side with Marshall’s and the (now closed!) Macaroni Grill?

    I wonder if we can get our hands on some initial site specs?

  2. I definitely think there is the potential for the new stores in BC to cannibalize others stores in town. Or at least make sales at both stores weak. A perfect example would be Target. I have heard rumblings that Target may be one of the anchor stores for BC. Currently I shop at the Target near West Farms. If there was one at BC, I would switch my shopping location because it’s closer for me. How many other people would do this? Sales at both stores would be diluted because the size of the pie of shoppers doesn’t change, it just spreads between two locations. I think store selection will be very important in order to keep people visiting all of the different sections of town. Store selection should be diverse and complementary.

    E&A doesn’t own the plot of land with the Walgreen’s and new Whole Foods, so it’s not clear if anything would happen there.

    I’m guessing the specs are under tight wraps, unless you are buddy buddy with someone at town hall. I don’t have that access. 🙁

  3. Does competition from another Target actually do harm to Target? I always figure that just means more money in their very own pockets. After all, in an area with two Whole Foods within close range, and none to be found elsewhere in a wide radius, it just seems like the more the merrier. Maybe such a split in the draw could bring more problems not just to the anchor store but also to its neighbors who gain shoppers from the anchor’s presence. But would Target also experience a hardship, a result of its own expansion?

    By the way, Governing magazine has an interesting article this month about the resurgence of walkable spaces, including in the suburbs.

  4. Yes. And it’s actually worse when it’s the same company. I bet the Whole Foods in BC is now pulling business from the Whole Foods at Blue Back. If I’m a consumer and it offers the same exact offerings, why should I drive another 7 minutes and deal with traffic to pick up my organic veggies? Target has a revenue goal for the West Farms store. There really isn’t another Target in the immediate area, so people are willing to drive somewhat further to shop there. If Target opens a new store in BC, the people in that area no longer have to drive as far for their Target goods. The revenue pie for Target doesn’t really grow, it just gets shifted around between the 2 stores. Add to that there are now 2 substantial leases and additional overhead to support.

    Major stores like Target (and Whole Foods) usually do indepth demographic and economic studies before they open another store in close proximity to an existing location. They want to make sure that both stores will thrive because they are typically locked into long term leases which are not easy to break if sales don’t materialize. They would then become a sub-leaser to someone else and they really aren’t in the business of being landlords.

    Thanks for the article link!

  5. amy, as you say, target and other large retailers do extensive planning and projections before opening new stores, since they don’t want to hurt existing business. of course, they still make mistakes, but they are very good at these projections, since their growth and profitability depends on it.

    i was quite surprised that whole foods kept the bc store open when they acquired wild oats, so we can only assume they have a strong case for keeping it open. you mentioned that you wouldn’t drive another 7 minutes to go to the other store if one is closer. but if wild oats was already doing well, then it seems clear that the whole foods can thrive there too. i don’t think there was enough differentiation between the two that it made much difference to the majority of shoppers. i would usually go to wild oats because it’s on my way home from work, but would have happily shopped at whole foods if it had been more convenient. i think this is a bigger factor for most than the relatively minor differences between the two stores.

    i would guess the same goes to target. we shop at the target near west farms as well, but not very often, due to the travel and traffic. i would certainly shop there much more frequently if it were conveniently located. i can’t tell you how many times i’ve wished there was a target on rte 44, when i need to pick something up.

    just my own anecdotal evidence, but i would bet there are a lot of people in places like bloomfield, avon, and simsbury that feel the same way. take a look at target locations on google maps and you can see that there’s a large, densely populated area with no convenient stores.

  6. River,

    I agree with your points. I’m very surprised there hasn’t been a Target built out on 44 with all of the other development in the past few years. Avon, Canton, and Simsbury could certainly support one. So I guess if the decision is made to build another Target in BC, people in those towns will just drive in to WH and most likely support other stores as well. Nothing wrong with that.

  7. I just rented a movie this evening at Blockbuster in Bishops Corner and the staff confirmed that Target is moving into this location. That particular Blockbuster is not yet certain where it will relocate.

    After all the BBS hoopla, it will be interesting to see locals’ reaction to another big box… That’s a pretty big impact to an already very busy area. I’m sure it will go through, but will love to see how they get the traffic impact study through. (“Any redevelopment at Bishops Corner will have to deal with the thorny issue of traffic, which already clogs the intersection at busy times of the day” – 2/4 Courant)

    I don’t see how the Target concept fits in with the “news” the developer reported in the 2/4 Courant. “… early talks with town officials — who will help shape the plans — point to a walkable “town center” with small shops and one or two large anchor tenants. The project could cost as much as $100 million, town officials said.” Target would certainly be a large anchor tenant, but it’s very hard to see it as a tenant in a “walkable” development.

    Here’s the whole original article – no longer available on for some odd reason, but freely available elsewhere on the web:

    Bishops Corner: Plans For Fresh Face

    (Hartford Courant, The (CT) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Feb. 4–WEST HARTFORD — — In 1953, Lord & Taylor opened its first store outside the New York area at a quiet crossroads known as Bishops Corner, bringing with it big-city glitz, glamour and fashion.

    The center created a retail buzz and drew shoppers from all over Greater Hartford. It spawned a wave of retail development and the rise of the suburban mall in the area as people and commerce headed out Albany Avenue from the city.

    Now, 55 years later, can this aging, tired shopping center create magic again — this time in a mature suburb?

    The owner of what was once Lord & Taylor — now a Marshalls — and a retail and office complex next door is expected to unveil plans as soon as this spring for a major redevelopment of the two properties, which could include the demolition of the half-empty Marshalls building and adjoining parking deck.

    The developer, Edens & Avant, isn’t giving details. But early talks with town officials — who will help shape the plans — point to a walkable “town center” with small shops and one or two large anchor tenants. The project could cost as much as $100 million, town officials said.

    Many people in town, unhappy with the sprawl of Bishops Corner, hope for the sort of transformation that happened less than two miles down Main Street at Blue Back Square.

    The vision is expansive. Although the buildings are just one piece of Bishops Corner, there is growing optimism that the redevelopment of the aging structures could eventually spur sweeping changes throughout the intersection. Edens & Avant also owns the Crossroads Plaza diagonally across the street, where a Waldbaum’s supermarket is located.

    “It’s a great location, with a lot of potential,” said Tim McNamara, a retail broker at Sullivan Hayes Cos. in Farmington. “Right now, Bishops Corner isn’t an overly attractive intersection.”

    Better For Pedestrians

    Edens & Avant, a major owner and developer of shopping centers on the East Coast, confirmed that it is drawing up plans for the center but declined to discuss design, scope, a timetable or possible tenants.

    The company, which is based in Columbia, S.C., promises a redevelopment that will fit well with Blue Back Square, a mix of retail stores, restaurants, residential units and entertainment venues near West Hartford Center.

    “Blue Back Square can only positively impact our project,” said Elizabeth Furnelli, vice president of development in the Boston office of Edens & Avant. “Development begets development, and what we do at Bishops Corner will be complementary to everything they’ve done there.”

    Bishops Corner long was a commercial crossroads for travelers on Albany Avenue, from the early 1800s. But it wasn’t until the opening of Lord & Taylor that the area began to gain a reputation for shopping. Retail development rapidly followed on all corners of the intersection, an early sign that suburban shopping centers would later overtake department stores in Hartford.

    Bishops Corner itself later fell victim to the trend, as the even larger Westfarms mall took shape in the 1970s and grew on the outskirts of town. Lord & Taylor eventually moved to the mall, and Bishops Corner slowly began losing its cachet.

    Edens & Avant bought the old Lord & Taylor site in 1998 for $33 million, and in 2006, it acquired the retail and office building next door for $25 million. That second building included a Romano’s Macaroni Grill restaurant, which closed last month.

    Soon after the second purchase, Edens & Avant visited town officials with an urban town center designer to talk about their ideas for the site, said Ronald F. Van Winkle, the town’s community planning director.

    At that time, the developer talked about keeping the office and retail building and incorporating it into a larger design. Because Edens & Avant envisions a dramatically different development on the site than exists today, the building, if saved, would get the first major makeover since it was built. It was constructed about the same time as the Lord & Taylor building.

    Although the developer’s thinking on that building may have changed, Van Winkle said it isn’t likely. Practically, Van Winkle said, it would be too costly to either buy out leases or pay to temporarily relocate all the tenants and increase the cost of the project. The tenants include not only merchants but doctors and dentists.

    Edens & Avant also envisioned the construction of a driveway that would wind through the 13-acre site, about two-thirds the size of Blue Back Square. Along the route, shops, restaurants and possibly apartments or condominiums would be built. To make the project work financially, the development would need one or two anchor stores, Van Winkle said.

    The new buildings would be much closer to North Main Street than they are now, and a parking garage would replace large portions of the existing parking lot, Van Winkle said.

    “The goal was to create a town center that would feel better to the pedestrian,” Van Winkle said.

    The town hasn’t had any recent discussions with Edens & Avant, but it has become increasingly clear that the developer is getting close to going public with plans, Van Winkle said.

    Edens & Avant hasn’t been looking for new tenants to fill vacant storefronts. When brokers have shown space, the developer hasn’t been interested in long-term leases.

    Some spaces have “been empty so long, they have to pull the trigger soon,” Van Winkle said. “The income just isn’t there.”

    The town has been laying the groundwork for redevelopment at Bishops Corner, spending $450,000 for new sidewalks and cast-iron street lights. It also invested $2 million for a senior center for the area.

    Any redevelopment at Bishops Corner will have to deal with the thorny issue of traffic, which already clogs the intersection at busy times of the day.

    Furnelli said she is excited about the possibilities of redevelopment in West Hartford.

    “West Hartford is a great town with a lot of momentum,” she said. “We’re long-term holders of real estate and believe strongly in this area.”

  8. I was at the Bishops Corner Blockbuster this evening as well. They should relocate to the corner of Prospect and Boulevard where the West Coast Video used to be. I’m tired of hauling my butt all the way out to Bishops Corner to rent a movie.

    Yeah, yeah, I know, Netflix. I just don’t rent enough movies to make it worthwhile.

    Thanks for the heads up!

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