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From Wonder Bread to the Natick Collection 2007 Expansion

Address: 330 Speen Street, Natick, MA, 01760

Original Facility built: 1964

Construction Stage: 2004-2007. Construction continues on Nouvelle component.

New Facility opening: September 7, 2007

Known stores in former: Wonder Bread factory, Wonder Bread factory store, TechCommons of Natick.

Current stores: Nearly 100, with Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus. See mall website for full list.

Mall website: http://www.natickcollection.com

News stories: Nordstrom comes to MetroWest, Neiman Marcus To Open At Natick Mall, Construction of State's First Nordstrom Underway, Natick announces plans for grand opening gala, Tiffany to Open Store in Natick, Massachusetts, Sel de la Terre Brings a Taste of Provence to Natick, Natick Collection Announces Charity Partners For Grand Opening Gala, Natick Collection, New England's Premier Trendsetting Marketplace, Set To Open In September 2007, Nordstrom Opens First Store in Massachusetts at Natick Collection, The Cheesecake Factory Opens in Natick, Massachusetts, Moonstruck Chocolate Co. Opens First East Coast Chocolate Cafe, Abercrombie & Fitch Hosts Investor Tour at Its First Gilly Hicks Store

Ownership of the Natick Mall was transferred in December 1995, when Cedar Rapids, IA-based General Growth Properties (GGP) announced the acquisition of Homart Development (a division of Hoffman Estates, IL-based Sears, Roebuck and Co.) for $1.85 billion. The acquisition was the largest real estate acquisitions in American history, and resulted in General Growth's subsequent relocation to Chicago. The mall prospered during this time, but by the start of the new millennium, it became clear that the center could support a wider variety of retailers. For the most part, MetroWest shoppers that had left the mall for Newton in the early-1990s had returned, but the dot-com boom brought a new upper-middle class to MetroWest that sought more upscale shopping. While retailers previously exclusive to Newton like Abercrombie & Fitch now had Natick outposts, tenants such as The Cheesecake Factory and J. Crew were not to be found; nor were Newbury Street-type stores like Burberry and Gucci.

Lucky for General Growth, the 240,000 sq. ft. Wonder Bread bakery located directly north of the mall was now vacant. Wonder Bread served as an important contributor to the local economy when the factory opened in 1964, but as the years went on, the outdated facility and the rising cost of doing business in Massachusetts led to the closure of the Natick factory in September 1999, as operations were relocated to a new factory in Biddeford, ME. A sale of the property to Providence-based "Leach Family Holdings" failed, which would have created retail on the site. Instead, the factory wound up in the hands of Scarsdale, NY-based development firm "TechCommons", which did minimal interior work in fall 2000 to convert the building into a telecom hotel, known as "TechCommons of Natick". However, the facility was a complete flop, never exceeding 50% occupancy, and in early 2002 the property was placed back on the market.

In the summer of 2002, General Growth scheduled a meeting with the Natick Planning Board to discuss the future of the Natick Mall, but the meeting was cancelled as the company was not ready to make a presentation. The meeting would eventually take place in late September 2002, where GGP made a giant announcement concerning the future of the mall. General Growth would expand the Natick Mall onto the land of the Wonder Bread factory, into a brand new upscale wing that would include upscale restaurants and boutiques in addition to two new anchor stores and a boutique hotel. This expansion of the Natick Mall would be modeled after General Growth's Tysons Corner Galleria, located in McLean, VA; an upscale suburb of Washington, D.C.

Over the course of the following year, General Growth's plans evolved considerably although they remained very much under wraps. By March 2004, announcements were becoming constant stories in local newspapers, although they were with several changes to the original plan. While there would still be two anchor stores as well as various restaurants and boutiques, the plan for a hotel was scrapped. This was a result of the stumbling economy at the time, and with the realization that there were already an excess of hotels in the area, including the adjacent Hampton Inn and the newly-built Courtyard by Marriott. In lieu of the hotel, General Growth would instead construct two 8-floored condominium towers, which would allow people to live in luxury at the mall.

Announcements slowly came along as the mall debated with the Natick Planning Board over the proposed additions. Throughout the approval process, traffic continually came up as the largest issue. General Growth also kept quiet about potential tenants for the mall. Then, on May 24, 2004; Nordstrom announced that they would become one of the new anchors, utilizing a two-floored, 144,000 sq. ft. building to create their first store in Massachusetts, which would open in late 2006 or early 2007. That announcement was followed on July 1, with the announcement that the mall would also include a 100,000 sq. ft. Neiman Marcus, which would open its doors in spring 2007. At this time, the rest of the expansion was slated to include 4 upscale restaurants and 65 other retailers.

The mall nearly gained approval on June 30, but ongoing debates regarding landscaping and public transportation held up the approval process. At last, at 1:00am on the morning of July 9, 2004, the Natick Planning Board voted to approve the addition to the Natick Mall. In the coming days and weeks, that approval would turn out very controversial.

Many groups soon became opposed to the mall's expansion. One group that displayed distain with the plans was the Town of Framingham; specifically, the Framingham Planning Board. The Board was concerned that the mall's expansion would add significantly to traffic in Framingham, specifically at the Rte. 30/Speen St. intersection and various intersections on Rte. 9. While Natick received $3 million in mitigation, Framingham initially received nothing. While General Growth and the Town of Framingham agreed to meet, the two sides were unable to negotiate. Therefore, on July 31, the Framingham Planning Board announced that they would appeal the mall expansion on the basis of traffic.

Framingham quickly gained company. Federated Department Stores, which owned Macy's, chose to appeal the project based upon General Growth breaching a clause in their lease. The lease between Federated and General Growth in regard to the former Macy's/currently J.C. Penney building stated that anchor tenants would have a say in any mall expansion. Further, Federated also cited customer safety, claiming that additional traffic on Natick Mall Road in front of the store would cause issue with customers trying to access the store's parking lot.

Shortly after, a third appeal was filed on behalf of Nolan Brothers, which owned the adjacent self-storage complex on Speen Street on the basis of traffic. With this many appeals, the future of the Natick Mall expansion appeared grim.

Although the construction of the mall expansion would be delayed, General Growth was eager to begin work on the mall. Although the Wonder Bread factory had closed nearly 5 years earlier, the building was still standing. Alas, on September 28, 2004, the company held a gathering for former Wonder Bread employees atop Parking Garage B. Following a luncheon (including Twinkie sushi, amongst other oddities) and several speeches, an excavator hit the factory and the building began its demise. By Thanksgiving, the Wonder Bread factory had become a relic of MetroWest past.

Needing time to settle the many appeals, General Growth filed plans in mid-November 2004 to construct the connector building between the Natick Mall (1994) and the new wing. The connector, which would contain no retail, would become part of the finalized mall, and the mall saw it as at least some progress to get the connector built. As it turned out, the connector would never be built before work began on the entire project. However, the plans for the connector soon developed into what General Growth would determine as Phase I of the mall project.

Seeing that a lot of the opposition to the mall derived from the residential component of the complex, General Growth redefined their plans for the mall in January 2005 by turning the construction into two parts. Phase I would include the retail components of the project, including the Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom, and Phase II, to be completed at a later date, would consist of the condominium towers and a connector to the existing mall. By not connecting the expansion to the original mall enabled GGP to denote the Natick Mall Expansion as an entirely different mall, which allowed them to get around the first part of the Federated appeal.

Many people on the Natick Planning Board showed opposition to the new plans, with the biggest problem being the changed road layout in the new mall plans. Another problem with the mall plans were the local bicycle coalitions, who continually demanded that the mall not be approved without a connection to the "adjacent" rail trail. Unfortunately, the rest of the rail trail was located across the very busy Speen Street. Despite suggestions such as a crosswalk connection and an overhead walkway connection, the coalition demanded the construction of an underground tunnel, with the opinion that many of the upscale shoppers served by the new addition would want to bike there.

Another "pedestrian-friendly" feature that was added to the mall plans were an overhead walkway going across Flutie Pass and connecting the new mall to a vacant space between Parking Garage B and Macy's, and the walkway would likely be connected to both of the above. The coincidence in the walkway was that with a direct connection between the inside of the mall expansion and the inside of Macy's, Federated couldn't really complain about customer safety.

This time around, General Growth scheduled a public hearing with the Framingham Planning Board in February 2005. The Planning Board was overall satisfied with the company's latest plans, and it became clear that a resolution could eventually be made between the two groups. But as the mall proceeded toward approval, it gained one more party in opposition.

May Department Stores, owner of Filene's and Lord and Taylor, appealed the initial expansion for three reasons: parking concerns, pedestrian safety, and traffic. May had superior rights, however, as unlike Federated, they owned the Filene's building outright. However, May's abrupt appeal, which was strange largely because of the company's prior concession, was even more in question with the announcement that Federated would acquire May in February 2005. Regardless, with three of the mall's four anchors opposed to the project (and the fourth likely too involved in the creation of Sears Holdings to comment), would the expansion ever happen?

The news for General Growth was no better from its two future tenants. Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus gave General Growth a 45-day ultimatum: if the mall was not going to be complete by the end of 2007, then the two stores would be freed from their contracts and would be able to look elsewhere in MetroWest for vacancies. Fearing the death of the project, the Natick Planning Board was forced to make a premature vote on Phase I of the Natick Mall Expansion. It passed with a 4-1 vote on March 14th, 2005; but considering the widespread opposition, it seemed unlikely that it would go through.

But there was light at the end of the tunnel. Framingham was not going to give up easily, especially seeing how much money Natick was able to pull out of GGP. On March 31, Framingham signed a deal with GGP for a total of $1.04 million in mitigation money in exchange for dropping the mall appeal.

With talks in place with Nolan Brothers, Federated, and May, none of which had appealed the latest plans, General Growth Properties was granted permission to construct Phase I after the appeals process ended on April 5, 2005 at 5:00PM. Construction was slated to begin in July 2005, with the grand opening for the mall expansion to take place in fall 2007. After several delays, the groundbreaking for the project took place on August 30, 2005, with General Growth officials flying in for the ceremony. Just a few days earlier, Federated agreed to drop its appeal of the overall project pending its merger with May.

With Phase I complete, GGP proceeded to unveil plans for Phase II, the residential component of the project in May 2005. Condominiums would be available in one, two, and three bedroom variations. 15% of the housing would be considered affordable housing, and the construction would consist of two 80-foot towers, each with 8 stories. The mall was also faced with the issue of constructing a tunnel beneath Speen Street to appease advocates of the nearby Cochituate Rail Trail. Rail Trail officials were satisfied with the proposal of a $100,000 stream-cover tunnel, but mall officials found the design unattractive, and found that an attractive tunnel would cost upwards of $4.8 million dollars.

Phase II met little general opposition from the Natick Planning Board, but the decision was made to take approval of the overall project, not design, to town meeting. On October 11, the Natick Board of Selectmen voted to pass an article regarding the project: were Phase II to be approved at the next Town Meeting, General Growth would be obligated to pay an additional $11.5 million in mitigation money, with up to $500,000 more if the affordable component of the project were to be built at a different site in Natick. And that was exactly what happened on October 27, with an overwhelming vote of approval for constructing a residential component on the Wonder Bread site.

Following months of meeting with both the Natick and Framingham Planning Boards, General Growth was given final approval for the construction of 215 condominiums, located in both a 120 foot 12-story south tower, smaller 10-story north tower, and 9-story connector building, as part of the mall's expansion on March 2, 2006. While GGP initially planned to open Phase II in tandem with the rest of the mall, delays have put off the expected opening of the condos to late 2007 and early 2008, with the planned hotel following some time after that.

With the residential project at last on track, construction continued throughout 2006 on the retail portions of the project. Out of the leveled site that once housed Wonder Bread, steel began to rise for the project. With construction on track for Neiman Marcus and the rest of the mall, construction on the expansion's largest anchor began in May 2006 as Nordstrom took control of their pad. On October 4th, with construction of Phase I at its peak height, a topping-off ceremony was held as construction workers in tuxedos set the final piece of steel into place.

By late 2006, the future name of the parcel also began to make the rounds. The name "Natick" was chosen to envelope both the existing and new malls, and General Growth chose to make the mall's symbol a large script "n", citing Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, and the residential project, Nouvelle. With both malls under the name Natick, the new components of the project on the Wonder Bread site became known as the 2007 Expansion.

General Growth also worked to renovate the interior of the existing mall and many of the exterior entrances during 2006, and by November of that year, the work was complete. To mark its completion, a fashion show and press conference were held on November 17, featuring speeches by the CEO of General Growth Properties, the mall's general manager, and the chairman of the Natick Board of Selectmen. But the morning was not only devoted to the existing mall: General Growth used the opportunity to announce several of the tenants slated to open at Natick. The official list released during the conference consisted of Louis Vuitton, BCBG, Stil, a relocated Coach store, Lacoste, Oakley, The North Face, J. Crew, Zara, Johnston & Murphy, Martin + Osa, and Teavana.

In January 2007, General Growth held a topping-off ceremony for the mall's "Nouvelle" residential component, marking that steel on the 12-story south tower had marked its peak height.

Following legal threats from the town of Natick, the mall and its under construction expansion were renamed the Natick Collection on February 20, 2007. At that time, the mall also named Betsey Johnson, Anthropologie, Hanna Andersson, Puma, and Burberry as tenants in the expansion. Those would be followed up exactly one month later with the announcement that Tiffany & Co. would also become a tenant. On April 17, Sel de la Terre announced details regarding their new restaurant at the Collection, and named Daniel Bojorquez head chef.

Construction proceeded through 2007. In late May, signage was installed on the Nordstrom building. The project received some visibility when, in its June issue, Boston Magazine held a photo shoot at the expansion's construction site. Also in June, the Food Network taped an episode of "Dinner Impossible" at the construction site, where a chef was challenged to create a lunch for 1,000 construction workers out of two Salvation Army canteen trucks. Meanwhile, the future tenants of the expansion had begun advertising job openings by the start of the summer, effectively bringing the names of the tenants public. On July 4, Calvin Klein announced that they would open a 13,000 sq. ft. store in the expansion in either October or November.

The construction also brought about substantial mitigation in regard to roadways. In May, work began on two project. General Growth rebuilt Speen Street between Cochituate Road and Hartford Street, repaving the surface and installing new sidewalks, in addition to an entirely new Hartford St./Speen St. intersection. The Town of Natick also began work to rebuilt Speen Street from Hartford St. to W. Central St. using mall funds, repaving the surface and adding new sidewalks with granite curbing. In August, a sidewalk was installed connecting the Natick Collection with the back of the Cloverleaf Mall; essentially, this served at the Cochituate Rail Trail's extension to the mall.

However, at a July 11th Natick Planning Board meeting, General Growth's Jim Grant acknowledged that not all of the stores in the expansion would be open by September 7th, and that some may not be opened until after the holiday season. Town planners questioned whether the mall would really be ready for a September opening, with interior construction continuing through the holidays as a result. Ultimately, on August 8, 2007, the Natick Collection expansion was granted a Temporary Occupancy Permit, allowing stores to bring employees in to get shelves stocked. Also in early August, new directional signage was installed around the property. While most of the 1994 signage was ripped out and replaced with temporary signs during the construction process, this replacement process pulled nearly all of the remaining signs, including the large letters "A" and "C" on the parking garages.

In the days leading up to the grand opening, a number of grand opening parties were held. Nordstrom held a gala on September 5th, complete with fashion shows, international designers, and bands. And on September 6th, the Natick Collection held a party for itself, expanding on the themes of hip, luxurious, inspired, and unique. Finally, on the morning of September 7, 2007 at 10:00am, the doors to the new facility finally opened to the public. About 70 percent of the stores in the expansion were open, the largest being Nordstrom. Neiman Marcus was forced to push back their opening by a week, but the store opened on September 15, a day after a gala of its own.

Store openings continued through the fall and the holiday season, with some of the biggest names including Gucci and Ralph Lauren set for early 2008 openings. On January 22, Abercrombie & Fitch will open the first location of it's fifth retail concept, Gilly Hicks, in the Natick Collection's expansion.

LAST UPDATED: January 19, 2008

My Pictures: Taken August 21, 2007

Nouvelle condos

In an attempt to better market the Nouvelle at Natick project, a large banner facing Route 9 was placed at the top of the property. At this point, sales have been slow, but the opening of the mall corridor is expected to greatly improve numbers.

Neiman Marcus

The Neiman Marcus store at the Natick Collection will be the first suburban store in Massachusetts and only the 39th store in the company. To the right of the store is "Nouvelle Way", a new street that will connect Speen Street with the rotary near J.C. Penney.

Collection landscaping

Landscaping in front of the mall allows for a much more appealing streetscape, even if it does limit visiblity of the mall itself.

Nordstrom

The Nordstrom store, as seen from Speen Street. Interestingly, the entire "Ruby" parking deck is actually suspended: beneath it is 30 feet of - well - nothing.

Nice union sign w/Nordstrom

The sign attached to the Nordstrom building reads: "Hi FasHion: Opens September 7th at 10 A.M."

New signage

New, oversized 'n' logos have been placed around the property, replacing the older, New England-inspired Natick Mall entrance signs.

My Pictures: Taken December 14, 2006

Nordstrom

Although there are 9 months until the grand opening, it appears almost as if the Nordstrom could open any day now (unfortunately, the interior is substantially less complete than the exterior). The signage on the front indicates that the location will be Nordstrom #100 when it opens next fall.

My Pictures: Taken June 18, 2006

A view of the ongoing construction

The construction has come a long way since the last set of photos. Steel is in place, and most of the retail portion of the site has its framework in place. At the time this photo was taken, Nordstrom had yet to put up anything on the future site of their store. Their pad is located not far back from the green fence.

Another view of construction

The construction as seen from the Natick Mall parking lot. Off the camera to the right is the pad of Neiman Marcus, for which construction has begun. The residential component will rise high above what my camera can see, but work on that portion can not be seen.

My Pictures: Taken June 11, 2005

Fence on Speen St.

Looking at the Macy's store from where the Wonder Bread factory's bays were located. These bays were connected to railroad tracks (owned by CSX) that are currently being turned into a rail-trail. Information on the rail-trail, a highly-debated issue of the mall expansion, can be found here.

Green signage.

This is a portion of the green signage hung outside the mall's lot. It reads, "A metamorphasis is coming. Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom. One of New England's premier retail destinations."

Fencing on Flutie

The dirt begins to pile up, while no trace of the factory, other than the pavement, can be seen.

Old parking lot

This portion of the factory was were employees working at the factory would park. It is located off of Flutie Pass, close to both Macy's and the corner of Parking Garage B.

My Pictures: Taken October 15, 2004

Demolition of Wonder Bread Factory

View of factory from Parking Garage B

Side of old factory

The back of the factory starts to come down.

My Pictures: Taken May 8, 2004

End of factory facing Macy's

North end, with Macy's in distance

Side of factory, facing the existing mall

Another shot facing mall


Media: A picture of Wonder Bread from this site, Renderings of the Natick Collection 2007 Expansion, Natick Grand Reopening Press Conference and Expansion Tour

Related Links: From the Natick Mall (1966) to the Natick Mall (1994), Natick (2006), Natick Mall (2007), and Natick Collection (2007), Can General Growth Manage Luxury Malls?, What Opened When at the Natick Collection?, TechCommons, General Growth Properties, Natick Collection at GGP.com, America's Premier Shopping Places, Natick Collection at Labelscar: The Retail History Blog.


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