New York City developer Don Sinex has landed his first big fish for Burlington Town Center mall — L.L. Bean.
The iconic Maine-based retailer will open a store covering more than 18,000 square feet on two levels in an office building attached to the mall at 101 Cherry St. Sinex said Thursday he will spend $3 million to get the space ready for L.L Bean, including demolition, new heating and air conditioning and new electrical power.
In a news release, L.L. Bean said the new store is scheduled to open in late October with a three-day grand opening celebration. Sinex said he's shooting for a Nov. 1 opening.
"They want to be ready for the holiday season," Sinex said. "We're working our butts off to make it happen."
Mayor Miro Weinberger said Thursday he sees L.L. Bean's decision to open a store in Burlington as a vote of confidence in the city's economy and "the direction we're headed."
"While I have not seen drawings or sketches of exactly how they'll build it, it sounds like it should be a major step in the right direction of revitalizing Cherry Street and making it a walking connection between Church Street and the waterfront," Weinberger said.
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Sinex said he signed the lease with L.L. Bean about a week ago. He said the store in the mall will be L.L. Bean's first in the state.
"They're a great tenant and a great addition to the mall," Sinex said. "Frankly I'm wondering why L.L. Bean wasn't in this market long before now."
L.L. Bean has sped up the opening of retail stores under the leadership of Chief Executive Officer Chris McCormick, the first non-family member to lead the company. L.L. Bean has 19 retail stores now and is planning to open three more this year, including the one on Cherry Street.
McCormick announced last week he is planning to step down in 2016 after more than a decade as CEO. He said he was grateful the Bean family had entrusted him with the company's operations, and that he was giving early notice so there could be a smooth transition to new leadership.
Visibility and access
Sinex's Devonwood Investors, LLC, bought the downtown mall with partner, Mountain Development Corp. of Woodland Park, N.J., from General Growth Properties of Chicago in December for $25 million, about $10 million less than GGP was asking. Sinex told the Burlington Free Press in December that when he first looked at the mall he was unimpressed, and uninterested, because it was obvious the property had been neglected.
"The access from Church Street is sort of awkward," Sinex said in December. "It's narrow. It's dark. You walk in, and you're not even sure what you're walking into."
What changed Sinex's mind was the vibrancy of Church Street. He realized the Burlington Town Center mall should be the showcase of the street. On Thursday, Sinex said landing L.L Bean is the first step in making that happen.
"From L.L. Bean's point of view and the point of view of the mall, they'll have visibility and access from Church and Cherry streets," Sinex said. "Anyone who wanders in from any direction will wander by multiple avenues of visibility. It will be good for mall traffic, good for all the tenants."
L.L. Bean said in a news release it decided to expand into Burlington because of the "large number of catalog and web customers in the area, as well as the proximity to abundant natural resources and opportunities for many outdoor activities."
The Maine company said the Burlington store will include Outdoor Discovery Schools, which will offer a wide variety of demonstrations, clinics and introductory hands-on activities, such as kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, archery and fly casting.
At the site on Thursday, the concrete in front of the office building on Cherry Street was being jackhammered away to make way for what will be a "nice, landscaped plaza" where L.L. Bean will display products, Sinex said.
Marc Sherman, owner of Outdoor Gear Exchange, around the corner on Church Street from where the L.L. Bean store would be, said Thursday he welcomes the competition.
"L.L. Bean is a formidable and well-respected outdoor retailer in New England and overall in the country," Sherman said. "Their presence in Burlington can only be good for the Burlington business community."
Sherman said L.L. Bean's proximity to his store and to City Sports will create an "outdoor shopping hub" at the corner of Church and Cherry streets.
"In my opinion, they'll bring more business to us than they'll draw away from us," Sherman said. "We'll both do very well."
Over the past 19 years, Outdoor Gear Exchange has grown from an 800 square foot store in its original location downtown to 40,000 square feet in its current location on Church Street. Sherman said managers from the new L.L. Bean store dropped by his store last week to introduce themselves and give him a heads-up concerning Thursday's announcement.
Apple still in the picture
Don Sinex said he is also having preliminary discussions with perhaps an even bigger fish than L.L. Bean — Apple. If an Apple store comes, Sinex said, it would be front and center on Church Street.
"Apple is an extremely powerful and peculiar retailer," Sinex said. "They like things their own way, or you can hit the highway."
For Apple to be out front on Church Street would require redeveloping the entrance to the mall, Sinex said, which requires approvals from the city, and "months of discussion." Sinex said his team is working "diligently and intelligently as possible" to land Apple.
"Like L.L. Bean, they would be a game-changer for the city," Sinex said.
Addressing rumors that Gap is leaving the mall, Sinex said he signed a short-term renewal on the store's lease, but confirmed the mall's relationship with the company is problematic.
"I'm working hard to try to keep them," Sinex said. "I'm hitting some headwinds in the sense that Gap has been in the mall for a long time under previous owners. One could easily reach the conclusion that Gap was not happy with the previous owners."
Sinex said that if Gap leaves the mall, he hopes it will stay on Church Street.
"If we lose them and they stay downtown it's a win," Sinex said. "If we lose them and they leave the Church Street area it's a loss for the city."
Signing a lease with L.L. Bean also satisfied a condition the city had placed on Sinex concerning his request to stop offering two hours of free parking in the mall's parking garage.
Sinex told the City Council this month that $5 million to $7 million worth of long-deferred maintenance on the parking garage could only be performed if the garage began generating more revenue. He said 75 percent of the motorists currently using the garage park free.
The council agreed to Sinex's request to drop the two free hours in the mall garage provided he sign a lease with "a new anchor tenant of national reputation and stature."
Mayor Weinberger said Thursday that as long as the deal with L.L. Bean moves forward, Sinex will be relieved of the requirement to provide two hours of free parking in the mall garage. Weinberger stressed that two hours of free parking will still be available in the three downtown parking garages owned by the city.
Reflecting on the deal with L.L. Bean, Sinex said the company's presence is crucial to his plans for Burlington Town Center mall.
"I didn't invest in this mall because of what it is," Sinex said. "I invested in this mall because of what it can become. This is the first step toward that, bringing in an exciting national retailer like L.L. Bean. We're beginning to get some traction."