Local Musician Envisions Replacing Berkshire Mall with Sprawling Mixed-Use Development

If a local musician has his way, the former Berkshire Mall will one day be replaced by a massive mixed-use development incorporating residential housing, shops, eateries, a hotel and a state-of-the-art entertainment facility. In late February, Preston Repenning, a 66-year-old Lanesborough resident who has worked professionally as a musician, presented his vision to the town’s three-member Select Board. Although members asked several questions, none of them provided any clues about how feasible Repenning’s proposal may be. The musician hasn’t lined up any financing or established an LLC for the project yet.

Built in 1988, the Berkshire Mall once served as the region’s primary commercial and retail hub. Like malls across the country, however, Berkshire fell on hard times in recent years. Five years ago, the property was purchased by Kohan Retail Investment Group of Great Neck, NY, for $3.5 million. However, the property company could not revive the failing mall, which continued to lose tenants during its ownership. Further, the company could not keep up with repairs and maintenance for the aging property, which made it even tougher to attract new tenants. Ultimately, Kohan sold the mall to Durga Property Holdings, LLC, for $1 million.

Since then, the mall shut down temporarily multiple times. It closed for good in May 2019. Today, only Regal Cinemas and Target continue to operate on the site; Target owns the 127,000 square feet of space that it uses. During his meeting with the Select Board, Repenning acknowledged that he hadn’t spoken to the mall’s current owners yet. He explained that he was inspired by the Rock Lititz, a hotel and convention project in Lititz, PA, which is about 75 miles west of Philadelphia.

Repenning told the Select Board that the mixed-use development would fill housing gaps in the region, explaining that many companies would like to expand, but there isn’t enough housing for new workers. Under his proposal, the former Sears building will be razed to make way for a new entertainment facility. The facility would include streaming, broadcast and recording studios – a nod to Repenning’s musical ambitions. The former JCPenney store will be replaced with a health and wellness center, but details about what the center will entail were not provided. Finally, two high-rise apartment and condo towers would be built approximately where Best Buy and Macy’s were located. The proposed hotel would also be located near the former Macy’s site.

Finally, the old mall’s central hallway would be retained under the proposal. Repenning envisions it being lined with shops, eateries and other establishments, which would be patronized by residents of the towers and guests to the development. However, several restaurants at the site have closed in recent months – undoubtedly due to the pandemic – so it is unclear how easy it will be to attract new tenants to the site. Repenning told the Select Board that he would operate as Paragon Villages LLC, suggesting that the name of the development could be Paragon Villages. However, he had not registered the new business at the time of this article.

According to Repenning, the former mall and surroundings are in rough shape. The site includes an obsolete and uncertified sewage treatment plant, and the roof is past due for replacement. The site also needs improved parking and landscaping, and updated water and electrical access will be necessary too. Given that Repenning has no experience in commercial property development, he could be facing an uphill battle. However, he plans to develop a public and private partnership that will generate the financing needed to make his vision of a mixed-use development at Berkshire Mall a reality.