After years of setting empty, what was once a shopping destination for Rhode Islanders – the Midland Mall, to later become the Rhode Island Mall – has a tenant.
On Friday, Mayor Scott Avedisian cut the ribbon to officially open Burlington Stores on the mall’s lower level next to Walmart. Burlington is the first of as many as six bigger box stores – three on each level – to occupy the mall.
The transition from a mall that opened in 1967 with 60 stores and grew from there was no easy task, related Anthony D’Antuono of New England Construction, who oversaw the project and coordinated the build-out of the Burlington space. In a behind-the-curtain tour of the mall, D’Antuono related how a crew of 40 filled 20 dumpsters daily for months to clean out the space. What was once the mall atrium is gone, replaced with flooring to create a gigantic open area on the second level that will be subdivided for two or three stores. The area is amazingly well lit by 68 skylights.
Kim Sluter, director of business development for New England Construction said that MCB Real Estate of Baltimore, owner of the mall, is in discussion with possible tenants, but that names could not be released until agreements were reached. She thought, however, that an announcement could come relatively soon. New England is ready to mobilize and could start the build-out almost immediately, she said.
The Midland Mall waned in popularity with the opening of the larger Warwick Mall and the loss of several of its key tenants. In 1981, Homart Development Co. sold the mall to MetLife for $20 million, and in 1985 it was renamed the Rhode Island Mall.
At the time, G. Fox, a division of May, anchored the east end of the mall, and Sears, which is owned independently of the mall, was the west anchor. In 1993, Fox and Filene’s merged, and in 1997 Filene’s at Rhode Island Mall closed. The store was demolished, with a Walmart opening on the lower level and Kohl’s on the second level. Neither store provided interior access to the mall, ensuring the decline and departure of the smaller stores occupying the mall.
In April of 2011, access to the mall’s interior was closed. More than a year later, Winstanley Enterprises LLC and Surrey Equities LLC bought the mall and advanced a plan to develop it as an outlet center. The plan was talked about excitedly as not only reviving the mall but also bringing in business to other retailers and attracting travelers using T. F. Green Airport. But with the Wrentham Village Premium Outlets on the periphery of what the outlet industry considers good separation, Winstanley found it difficult to get tenant commitments. The property was then bought by MCB.
For those who remember, D’Antuono said just to the right of the entrance to Burlington is where the Rhode Island Division of Motor Vehicles was located in the mall. Today there are racks of new, brightly displayed merchandise – and no one waiting for their number to pop up on the screen above the counters.
A BOOST FOR CCAP:
As part of its opening ceremony, Burlington Stores provided boxes of clothing and merchandise to the Comprehensive Community Action Plan. Here, manager of the new Warwick Burlington at the Rhode Island Mall, Lisa Martin (at center), joins her staff in loading the CCAP truck. (Warwick Beacon photo)