Thursday, March 24, 2011

NEIGHBORHOODS: Newbury Street's next act

Borders, Louis stores await something new.

During a period of rapid turnover among the Back Bay’s retailers, the biggest change has yet to come. The closing of the Borders bookstore on Boylston Street will open a swath of space next to the vacant building that had housed LouisBoston, clearing the way for new stores in the heart of Boston’s key shopping district.

Real estate brokers hired to market the two buildings are considering an array of options, including dividing them up to make space for restaurants and boutiques, a move that would tweak the area’s ambiance and retail mix.

“I look at this as an opportunity to bring new life into these buildings,’’ said Meg Mainzer-Cohen, president of the Back Bay Association, a business group. “The important thing is to find retailers who can really create a presence in these locations and be successful.’’

The turnover in the buildings, which are on the block between Berkeley and Clarendon streets, is part of a wave of change caused by the economic tumult of the past few years.

Twenty-one businesses have opened in the Back Bay since July, according to the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

Among the district’s new occupants are the British clothier Jack Wills, athletic-gear giant Converse Inc., women’s retailer Forever 21 Inc., and a slew of restaurants, from the Mexican eatery Lolita Cocina & Tequila Bar to Towne Stove and Spirits in the Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center.

“We’ve seen tremendous retail growth over the last year or two,’’ Mayor Thomas M. Menino said. “We lost Borders, but I think you’ll see someone take that space very shortly. Combined with the Louis building, there’s great potential for a new gateway to Newbury Street.’’

Together, the buildings occupy a full city block and have entrances on both Newbury and Boylston streets.

Borders Group executives have said their compa ny’s Back Bay location will be vacant by the end of April as part of the chain’s bankruptcy.

The 24,000-square-foot, two-story building is versatile enough to house a variety of businesses, said Jeremy Grossman, an executive with CBRE-Grossman, which is marketing the Borders space for its owner, TIAA-CREF.

“You have opportunities and size ranges that don’t typically exist in the Back Bay,’’ Grossman said. The building could be subdivided for smaller shops or be occupied by a single retail store or a restaurant, he said.

A few doors down, the owner of the former Louis building is weighing the same options.

Thomas DeSimone, an executive with WS Development, the owner, said the firm wants to find a single tenant but has received inquiries from smaller retail shops, restaurants, and companies seeking office space.

“We’re not in a hurry,’’ DeSimone said. “We want to be sure we get the right tenant.’’

The building’s former occupant, LouisBoston, moved to the Seaport District last spring, leaving a 44,000-square-foot space at 234 Berkeley St. The 1863 building once housed the New England Museum of Natural History.

Because of its unusual size and layout, the building will require substantial renovations that could become complex if there are multiple tenants. DeSimone said he hopes businesses will open in the building within two years.

Casey Ross Boston Globe March 17, 2011

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