In Greenfield, the former Wilson department store will include 65 apartments, an expanded cooperative grocery store

GREENFIELD — The former Wilson’s department store will be redeveloped into 65 mixed-income rental units and an expanded Green Fields Market grocery store under a plan announced Wednesday by the city, MassDevelopment and developer The Community Builders.

MassDevelopment, the state’s development finance agency and land bank, on Tuesday bought the building at 242-262 Main St. and adjacent parking lots from the O’Neil family, who ran the store, for 2, $6 million, according to documents filed with the Franklin County Deeds Registry.

No one involved in the project provided the full construction cost on Wednesday.

35 exterior The iconic white facade was added to the Wilson department store on Main Street in Greenfield in 1960. (Photo by Cori Urban)

“This is a multi-million investment in downtown Greenfield. It sure is,” Mayor Roxann Wedegartner said. “Accommodating and maintaining a strong commercial presence on Main Street for Greenfield are two of my goals.”

Commercial presence will be maintained on the ground floor and basement by Franklin Community Co-op’s Greenfield store, Green Fields Market.

“This is our downtown market,” Wedegartner said. “They desperately need to grow. They must have grown for a while and they have had their eye on the Wilson Building for a long time.

In addition to a larger fresh produce department, the store will include a full-service bakery, deli, meat and seafood departments. The new location will also have a larger community room on-site than the individuals, groups, nonprofits and other organizations will be able to book for gatherings, workshops and community events, the market said in a press release.

“It took several years to prepare. I think everyone is very excited. Finally, everything is falling into place,” said Amy Britt, director of outreach and communications for Franklin Community Co-op. “Our Community Hall now for Green Fields Market is just down the street.”

The co-op supports more than 220 local vendors, including 40 local farms, producing $2.6 million in local sales in 2021 with two locations: Green Fields in Greenfield and McCusker’s Market in Shelburne Falls.

The 65 mixed-income rental units for families will be one-, two-, and three-bedroom units with a mix of labor units and income-adjusted units. Residents will be close to not only the co-op’s grocery store, but also health care, a pharmacy, the YMCA, the public library, and open green space.

Wedegartner said the apartments will attract residents from across the region and will be accessible by elevators.

The redevelopment of Wilson’s has been a city goal since the store even before the discontinuance sale concluded in January 2020.

Wilson's Greenfield

12/11/00 – Christine L. Snow, a personal shopper at Wilson’s department store in Greenfield, fills an order for socks. Photo by Matthew Cavanaugh

Shopping at Wilson’s was a throwback to when Steiger’s stores were the gems of Springfield and Holyoke while Forbes & Wallace’s Springfield store competed and McCallum’s in Northampton drew people to the building where Thornes Marketplace now stands.

Wilson’s had three or four floors of branded merchandise spanning 20 departments and boasted “a remarkable selection and low prices that would put a smile on your face”. Customers could get household items in the basement, a men’s suit on the first floor, and a new hairstyle upstairs in the salon.

The clerks offered gift wrapping.

Company president Kevin J. O’Neil worked for years on a redevelopment plan that would have included a boutique hotel. But that never materialized and he decided to retire, leaving the business without a family member willing to take over.

In addition, he lamented changes in consumer habits that have made it difficult for department stores.

Officials said the building will continue to anchor downtown.

“Mixed-use buildings comprising housing and retail are a primary ingredient for creating vibrant, walkable downtown neighborhoods,” said Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy, who chairs the MassDevelopment board of directors, in a press release. “The Baker-Polito administration is delighted that MassDevelopment can play a key role in advancing efforts to redevelopment this historic property to meet the needs of Greenfield today.”

Wilson's Greenfield

The former Wilson’s department store in Greenfield, Feb. 26, 2021. (Don Treeger/The Republican)

“MassDevelopment is proud to support The Community Builders and Franklin Community Co-op as they work to revitalize this historic property on Main Street with mixed-income housing, jobs, and an expanded, accessible grocery store,” said said MassDevelopment President and CEO Dan Rivera. in a press release. “This collaborative effort would not have been possible without the leadership of the Town of Greenfield and the downtown district.

Residential redevelopment of the historic property will be funded in part by a combination of federal and state low-income housing tax credits, new market tax credits, and historic tax credits, pending approvals from relevant state agencies.

The City of Greenfield is also investing $300,000 in funds to be used to create affordable housing. Wedegartner said the money came from the city’s sale of the lease on another downtown development, The Mill House Apartments.

The construction of the cooperative is planned in 2023 and 2024 and the residential construction by 2025 and 2026.

Wedegartner said it would be part of a recent growth in downtown development. The new $20 million library will open in June 2023. A new fire station will open in late 2023 or early 2024.

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