The new Arsenal Mall will have smaller buildings, try to create inviting public spaces and celebrate the natural areas around it, including Arsenal Park.
The owners of the Arsenal Mall – now the Arsenal Project – discussed some of their ideas for their grand renovation of the mall on the East End of Watertown in the first of a series of public meetings on Wednesday night.
The mall and the Arsenal Park, right behind it, could use some upgrades, said Tom Wilder, principal of Wilder Cos., which operates the mall.
“When we got the Arsenal property it was not functioning well. Folks hadn’t been here for a years,” Wilder said. “People didn’t realize there is a park right behind us.”
The mall will look quite different after the renovations, said architect Eric Brown.
“The newer additions are not only bad architecture but they are a little in the way,” Brown said. “So we are going to tear it down.”
Much of the new mall will be broken into “little chunks,” Brown said, with retail and residential buildings, and some parking included in some of the buildings.
Among the new additions planned are a movie theater, a grocery store and possibly a bowling alley.
In between will be streets and walkways that developers want to be public spaces. Even the streets primarily for cars will be treelined, and have wide sidewalks for walking and sitting. In addition, Brown said there will be shared streets, which are primarily for pedestrians, but can be used by vehicles.
Two signature areas will the cinema plaza and the river green, said Chris Jones, an landscape architect with Carol Johnson & Associates. The cinema is envisioned to go in the part of the old building along Arsenal Street where Old Navy is now.
“The cinema plaza is a large area set up for people to pour out the cinema after a film showing,” Jones said. “If it is not planned right it can be destitute.”
The river green connects the east end of Arsenal Park with the main area of the new Arsenal Mall. It will be about half an acre in size, and will go where the current connection between the two long, tall brick buildings now sits.
Bill McQuillan, principal with Boylston Properties – the mall’s owner, said there is a good opportunity to improve Arsenal Park.
“We don’t want to be pressuring the town about the park,” McQuillan said. “We want to spur the conversation: if you don’t want improvement, or if you want something (improved) there.”
Some residents worried about the impact of the new construction on the park, and the nearby natural lands along the Charles River. The planners assured people there would be no motor vehicle traffic behind the big building where Marshalls is located, and Arsenal Park.
There will be a garage as part of a planned multistory residential building that will be to the east of the Marshalls building. Effort swill be made so that the park does not look into an “ugly” parking garage.
Other improvements include more treatment of stormwater and slowing the flow of the water into the storm sewers and ultimately the Charles River.
“Under the existing condition, there is absolutely no treatment before it goes into the river,” said Roy Smith, civil engineer with R.J. O’Connell Engineers. Infiltration fields will slow the pace of water going into storm sewers and treat the water, too.
Another idea that proved popular with those attending the meeting was undergrounding the wires along Arsenal Street.
“Two years ago we submitted a study of putting the utilities underground,” McQuillan said. “We have not gotten much traction from the town fathers and mothers. It is expensive – $8-10 million – but the town has ways to do it: floating bonds or putting a betterment assessment on the area.”
Residents wanted to make sure there is enough bike parking, and one suggested having a Hubway bicycle rental station. Jeff Heidelberg, project manager for Boylston Properties, said they would support that, but the town has to apply for it.
Others worried about the greenery on the site being able to survive.
“I like the plan, and the pedestrian friendliness,” said resident Martha Pedersen. “I am happy to hear you are putting in structural soil to allow the trees to survive. Can we make sure that doesn’t get cut at the end of the construction?”
Zip Cars will be available onsite for the residents of the apartment and other.
The traffic study has only just started, said Giles Ham of Vanesse & Associates. He said with the project adding housing, entertainment and grocery shopping, the hope is the number of trips are cut down because people can either do multiple things in one trip to the mall, or they live there and don’t have to leave to shop or go to the movies.
The ideas for the mall can be seen on the new website created by the Arsenal Project, courbanize.com/arsenal-project. Presentations, such as Wednesday’s, will be posted there, and there is a timeline of the project (including meetings, expected filings with the town and approvals).
Developers have two more meetings planned in this phase of the planning. One on Thursday, May 26 at 7 p.m. about the buildings characteristics and site plans, and one on Wednesday, June 1 at 7 p.m., which will be an open house. Both meetings will be in the Innovation Space at the Arsenal Project (across from Dunkin Donuts).