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EXCLUSIVE: Food Hall To Take Best Buy Site At Fenway's Landmark Center

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Boston Public Market and Eataly, be warned: a new food emporium is coming to one of Fenway’s busiest intersections. 

EXCLUSIVE: Food Hall To Take Best Buy Site At Fenway's Landmark Center
Rendering of the new 1.1-acre park proposed at the site of Landmark Center's parking lot

As retail landlords nationwide tackle a wave of big-box store closings, Samuels & Associates has plans at its Landmark Center to repurpose a 25K SF space vacated by Best Buy in 2014 into a food hall. It is at the junction of Park Drive, Brookline Avenue and Boylston Street in Fenway, and is part of a greater redevelopment effort underway at the 950K SF mixed-use building.

“We bought out a Best Buy and are redoing that same 25K SF box as a food hall that spills out into an open park area,” Samuels & Associates president Joel Sklar said at Bisnow’s National Retail Series event in Manhattan this week.

EXCLUSIVE: Food Hall To Take Best Buy Site At Fenway's Landmark Center
Samuels & Associates President Joel Sklar, Hutensky Capital Partners President Brad Hutensky and Bayer Properties CEO Jeffrey Bayer

Samuels gave Best Buy the option to get out of its lease early in order to jump-start redevelopment on Landmark. The electronics company seized the opportunity due to its loading dock not being connected to the actual store and from an excess of Best Buys across greater Boston, a company spokesperson told the Boston Globe in 2014.

While Samuels spokesperson Kate Haranis said the developer will present a master plan for the entire site in about 60 days, she gave Bisnow a sneak preview. Samuels filed documents this week with the Boston Planning & Development Agency pertaining to the project’s first phase, a 1.1-acre green space that will offer recreational uses and better connectivity between the Fenway MBTA station and Brookline Avenue. The park will complement the Emerald Necklace extension across Park Drive.

EXCLUSIVE: Food Hall To Take Best Buy Site At Fenway's Landmark Center
Joel Sklar, Jeffrey Bayer and Olshan Properties CEO Andrea Olshan

The developer hopes to finish the park by next summer, and the food hall and a grocer will start in later phases currently being reconfigured to be less disruptive than in earlier proposals. Rather than demolish the Landmark parking garage, the developer said it will build around it to make construction less of an annoyance to the surrounding community. 

Food halls have become an increasingly utilized adaptive reuse tool for the big-box stores going the way of the dodo. A 2016 Cushman & Wakefield report said a new food hall is proposed each week in the U.S., and the number of food halls in the country is expected to balloon from 110 today to over 200 in 2018. Rather than bemoan the closure of a bigger retailer, Sklar said it opens a myriad of potential. 

“It provides a lot more opportunities for profit and expansion in existing properties,” he said. 

EXCLUSIVE: Food Hall To Take Best Buy Site At Fenway's Landmark Center
401 Park, formerly the Landmark Center

Samuels has been influential in changing the reputation of Fenway, transforming the neighborhood once viewed as a parking lot and a pass-through for the nearby Longwood Medical and Academic Area into a live/work/play mecca with developments like Van Ness and Pierce Boston.

The company has come a long way from its origins as a landlord of malls and grocery-anchored shopping centers like South Bay in Dorchester. Sklar said the company’s shift in focus to mixed-use is key to its continued success. He said other landlords looking to survive in the rapidly changing retail environment should give that model a closer look.

“In order to succeed going forward, I think we can all probably agree that mixed-use has to be a very important part of what everybody is doing,” he said. “There are very few single-category developers left in terms of new growth.”