Waterbury mall sold to developer for $44.9 million. Here’s what it means for the property’s future.

Less than 25 years after it first opened, Brass Mill Center now is on its

Less than 25 years after it first opened, Brass Mill Center now is on its third owner.

The Waterbury mall and the adjacent Brass Mill Commons retail center were sold for $44.9 million late last month to a Long Island, N.Y. company that claims to specialize in turning around distressed malls. Mike Kohan, a principal in Kohan Retail Investment Group, said Wednesday the company “has been in the mall business for the past 20 years and we’ve done a tremendous amount of repositioning.”

“I need some time to get my head around what will work at this location,” said Kohan, whose legal name is Mehran Kohansieh. “Hopefully we can add some things that will bring more traffic to the mall, which will bring in more tenants.”

In other locations that Kohan Retail Investment Group operates malls, he said increasing entertainment options has helped boost foot traffic.

“Things like bungee jumping machines or bowling alleys,” he said.

Brass Mill Center is 1.1 million square feet and is one the state’s largest malls. It opened in September 1997 after the historic Scovill Brass Works was torn down and an environmental clean up was done.

Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary is scheduled to meet with Kohan on Tuesday, June 7, according to Jennifer Rose, a mayoral spokeswoman.

“We’ve had some communication with him prior to the sale and post-sale, and we’re going to have a sit-down with him and talk about his vision and our vision of what’s best for the mall,” O’Leary said in an interview with Hearst Connecticut Media this week.

O’Leary said the mall “has been failing steadily for the past 10 years.”

“Sears closed, then Macy’s closed; JCPenney remains there,” he said. “ But we were kind of waiting for someone to ‘tear the band-aid off.’ The sale of the mall did that, and we’re looking forward to working with the new owner to see what’s the highest and best use of the property.”

O’Leary said Brass Mill Commons is “doing really well.”

“It has a number of outlets that are amazingly successful, as well as TGI Friday’s and other thriving businesses,” he said. “That side of the street is good.”

Lynn Ward, president and chief executive officer of the Watebrury Chamber of Commerce, said “a revival of the mall is very important because they are a very significant property owner and taxpayer” for the city. Ward said she recalls when the mall opened, small business owners in the center of city feared that Brass Mill Center would siphon off their customers.

“That attitude changed over time because there were a very committed group of business and community leaders that worked to make sure the mall developed a link with the downtown area. “

The best way to revitalize Brass Mill Center

Retail and mall experts say the best way to generate more foot traffic at the mall is to convert the vacant anchor space into some kind of mixed use.

“Municipalities are short-sighted if they think can keep mall properties strictly as retail,” said Brian Marks, a senior lecturer in the economics and business analytics department at the University of New Haven. “The pandemic has accelerated the shrinking of the footprint for bricks-and-mortar retail because most retailers are completely rethinking their strategies. Anyone who buys a mall property these days has to be looking at a more creative reuse.”

Jason Beske, a senior urban designer with Arlington, Va.-based Stantec, said the company does a lot of work designing remakes of malls that are in decline.

“Mall sites can be used to create a successful mixed use environment,” Beske said. “In can help reinvigorate retail space that is dead or dying. This mall once met the city’s need for jobs and tax base. Now you have an opportunity to use this space to fulfill an obligation, like housing or health care.”

For an illustration of that, Waterbury officials need look no further than the Meriden Mall, where Yale New Haven Health purchased the former Macy’s anchor store there and plan to convert the space into medical offices.

Yale New Haven Health is now in the midst of trying to acquire Waterbury Hospital. A spokesman for Yale New Haven Health said Thursday the idea of moving some of the functions into the mall space “is something that might be addressed way down the road since the (acquisition) process is still in the earliest stages.”

Yale New Haven Health hasn’t started construction on its conversion of the former Macy’s space at the Meriden Mall, according to the spokesman.

The conversion of vacant space in retail centers, known in the mall and shopping center business as “medtail” is of the hottest current trends in retail development, according to Burt Flickinger, managing director of New York City-based Strategic Resource Group.

Earlier this month, officials with Hartford Healthcare confirmed they plan to build a dozen new medical buildings in Fairfield County over the next 18 months. Officials with Hartford Healthcare haven’t identified the specific Fairfield County locations yet.

And in another local example of the marriage of retail and housing, construction of apartments on the outer edge of the Westfield Trumbull Mall property got underway last October.

[email protected]

Reporter Paul Schott contributed to this report.