In reviving Garden City Center, the Boston-based Wilder Cos. did as much harking back to the open-air project’s past as looking to its future. Built in 1948 as Garden City Shopping Center by Nazarene Melocarro, an immigrant from Italy, the Cranston, R.I., mixed-use property was conceived as a walkable neighborhood center. Over the years, it lost that initial town center allure and luster, turning from a site where people wanted to linger and browse into a place where they merely bought what they needed to and then left.
When Wilder Cos. took over management for owner-investor Gateway Woodside in 2009, the shopping center comprised a “village” area with some small specialty shops, which remains, and a power center section for big boxes, which is gone. All three big-box anchors — Borders, Circuit City and Linens ’n Things — went bust. Wilder Cos. broke up those boxes and replaced them with smaller retailers. “The economic benefit is that you are taking mid-teens box rents and converting those to $30, $40 and $50 specialty-store rents,” said Thomas Wilder, CSM, a Wilder Cos. principal. “Any loss of gross leasable area, you make up for in gross dollars.”
Wilder Cos. refilled the Circuit City and Linens spaces with a Container Store, a Corner Bakery Cafe and a Sephora. The company tore down the Borders and brought in an LA Fitness gym. Wilder Cos. also constructed a 20,000-square-foot building for J.Crew and Pottery Barn, which opened last October, and Lululemon is among the new tenants taking over expiring leases. Two regional restaurant chains that came in as part of the redevelopment are “knocking it out of the park,” according to Wilder, who says he expects to see more eateries leasing space.
So far the work has increased the center’s gross leasable space from 490,000 square feet to 510,000 square feet. Besides augmenting the shopping footage, Wilder Cos. has taken away outdated awnings, put up fresh signage, removed the cover from an outdoor walkway and spruced up the landscaping. The firm describes the architecture as “contemporary New England.”
Garden City Center has always had office space too. Today some 75,000 square feet of law, medical, insurance and real estate offices and travel agencies occupy space on the second and third floors of various buildings throughout. For the next development phase, scheduled to begin during the third quarter of next year and to wrap up sometime in 2016, Wilder Cos. is looking at putting up some 30,000 to 50,000 square feet of additional retail space, as well as living space in the form of apartments or a hotel.
Providence Diamond Fine Jewelry relocated to the shopping center in 1991. Owner Peter Pritsker says he is happy with Wilder Cos.’ changes and that he welcomes a hotel or residential space. Garden City Center is doing better than ever, he says, and Wilder Cos. deserves the credit. “I don’t know how they did it, but they did it,” Pritsker said. “That was a very difficult time for anyone in retail. They decided they had to do something to bring people in, and they invested money.” — Ian Ritter