Reimagining the Hampshire Mall: UMass architecture students share their visions

University of Massachusetts student Izzy Dyer presents a proposed redesign and site plan for housing at the Hampshire Mall in Hadley, one of eight redevelopment proposals for the 33-acre site. The joint effort involved 40 juniors in the Architecture and Landscape Architecture programs, with plans being presented to UMass faculty, Hadley town officials and the Hampshire Mall’s general manager on Wednesday.

University of Massachusetts student Izzy Dyer presents a proposed redesign and site plan for housing at the Hampshire Mall in Hadley, one of eight redevelopment proposals for the 33-acre site. The joint effort involved 40 juniors in the Architecture and Landscape Architecture programs, with plans being presented to UMass faculty, Hadley town officials and the Hampshire Mall’s general manager on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Joe Alberico, a UMass student, presents a proposed redesign and site plan for housing at Hampshire Mall in Hadley, one of eight redevelopment proposals for the 33-acre site presented to   UMass faculty, Hadley town officials and the Hampshire Mall’s general manager on Wednesday.

Joe Alberico, a UMass student, presents a proposed redesign and site plan for housing at Hampshire Mall in Hadley, one of eight redevelopment proposals for the 33-acre site presented to UMass faculty, Hadley town officials and the Hampshire Mall’s general manager on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Lynn Gray, general manager of the Hampshire Mall in Hadley, discusses the plans for a housing complex at the mall drawn up by a group of  UMass students in the Architecture and Landscape Architecture programs. The plans were presented to Gray, UMass faculty and Hadley town officials on Wednesday.

Lynn Gray, general manager of the Hampshire Mall in Hadley, discusses the plans for a housing complex at the mall drawn up by a group of UMass students in the Architecture and Landscape Architecture programs. The plans were presented to Gray, UMass faculty and Hadley town officials on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

University of Massachusetts students Joe Alberico and Nigel Lau present a proposed redesign and site plan for housing at Hampshire Mall in Hadley, one of eight student proposals for the 33-acre site. The plans were developed by 40 juniors in the Architecture and Landscape Architecture programs and presented to UMass faculty, Hadley officials and the Hampshire Mall’s general manager on March 13.

University of Massachusetts students Joe Alberico and Nigel Lau present a proposed redesign and site plan for housing at Hampshire Mall in Hadley, one of eight student proposals for the 33-acre site. The plans were developed by 40 juniors in the Architecture and Landscape Architecture programs and presented to UMass faculty, Hadley officials and the Hampshire Mall’s general manager on March 13. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

The Hampshire Mall off Route 9 in Hadley is seen in an aerial photo.

The Hampshire Mall off Route 9 in Hadley is seen in an aerial photo. Josh Kuckens

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 03-24-2024 2:01 PM

AMHERST — What would Hampshire Mall’s expansive 33-acre property off Route 9 in Hadley look like as mostly a housing complex?

A class of budding architects and landscape architects at the University of Amherst have spent the last couple of months imagining just such a scenario — an idea first floated nearly two years by the 46-year-old shopping center’s general manager.

One concept called Maple & Russell would transform the mall into a property featuring 40 rowhouses and 150 apartments, with a central courtyard, a playground and tennis and pickleball courts for tenants, next to a solitary department store remaining from the mall.

“We kept the Target and scrapped everything else,” Aidan Woog McGinty, a junior in the Landscape Architecture program at the University of Massachusetts, explained while describing a concept layout and illustrations of the mixed-use community on March 13.

Woog McGinty said such a project would create a community-oriented space and a number of walkable areas, while restoring and preserving nearby wetlands. “We tried to make every space desirable, if living here or visiting,” Woog McGinty said.

Maple & Russell is one of eight “Reimagining the Hampshire Mall: Exploring Opportunities for Intergenerational Housing and Community Development” midterm presentations from 40 juniors in the Architecture and Landscape Architecture programs. Presented at the John W. Olver Design Building over the course of two hours, groups of five students took turns speaking to UMass professors and faculty members, visiting academics and student peers, as well as Lynn Gray, general manager of the Hampshire Mall, and members of Hadley’s Housing and Economic Development Committee, which both gave support to concepts for redeveloping the site.

Gray told the town committee in March 2022 that the mall might be interested in exploring housing at the 367 Russell St. site due to challenges in keeping tenants in the center that opened in 1978. Gray mentioned this has occurred at other Pyramid-owned properties, such as a 282-unit luxury apartment complex replacing a Sears store at the Kingston Collection mall in Kingston.

In addition to Target, the mall includes retail anchors JC Penney, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Jo-Ann Fabrics and PetSmart, with other spaces focused on entertainment, lifestyle and food, including Planet Fitness, FunHub, Pinz and Arizona Pizza.

Partnership withUMass, town

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Stephen Schreiber, who chairs the Department of Architecture, said discussions about the project started about 18 month ago, with the project being formally pitched as part of a strategic partnership between UMass and the town.

Erica Dewitt, adjunct faculty in Architecture, said that students had to follow various criteria, such as that the concept plans include 350 to 700 new housing units, designed for young professionals, working families and seniors, that there be site amenities for residents and visitors, and that sufficient parking for tenants and shoppers be included. Maintaining some portion or all of the mall was also a requirement.

Allyson Fairweather, adjunct faculty in Landscape Architectuire, said that the mall site is large, giving the students an opportunity to brainstorm various redevelopment possibilities. But each had to offer “communal amenities,” such as connections to the Norwottuck Rail Trail.

Robert Ryan, who chairs Landscape Architecture at UMass, said the project was a rare opportunity for students to partner across their fields of study and look at things in different ways.

In fact, the joint studio blurs boundaries, said Ann Marshall, lecturer in the Department of Architecture. As an already developed site, the project ideas also promote sustainability. “This introduces our students to a different kind of sustainability and reuse,” Marshall said.

Since early February, students have learned about the history of Hadley, the town’s current demographics and zoning, and met with members of the town committee, including Molly Keegan, who is also on the town Select Board, and Justin Pelland, who works professionally as an architect.

Some plans

The developments included a variety of proposed names, including Hadley Boulevard, Ecocentric Hampshire Mall development, Vernal Walk Estates and The Oxbows Residential.

Joining Woog McGinty in the Maple & Russell plans were Natalia Smiarowski and Emily Chmielinski, both in the Architecture program, and Tresvonn Elliott of Landscape Architecture.

What comes with Maple & Russell, Smiarowski said, is “a small community within a larger one” and that buildings closer to Route 9 would be commercial, for uses such as salons, while the inside facing buildings would be residential.

The project also groups together amenities for the residents, such as a day care center and a dog park, Chmielinski said.

Other groups presented plans showing that the existing Cinemark movie theaters get rearranged into a hybrid indoor and outdoor mall, with space for local vendors, and the “draping” of residential space over commercial space.

As students took people through their plans, they also got feedback, like Ryan pointing to a design including a vegetative buffer in front of Target, noting that is unusual placement for a commercial business. “Think about synergies and space,” Ryan said.

While the existing zoning on Route 9 restricting the site to commercial uses, and town zoning mostly prohibiting more than one dwelling on a property, makes the plans impossible, Keegan said they are effective at stimulating discussion about the potential for creating new communities and protecting natural resources.

Keegan said it was striking the sheer size of the mall property and the number of possibilities that redevelopment could offer. “It was exciting to recognize the ways you could transform this property to incorporate housing to meet needs of the town and the master plan,” Keegan said.

Gray said she and her team were impressed with the ingenuity students used to incorporate more residential units along the Route 9 corridor.

“Hampshire Mall, featured as a case study in this conceptual project, helped articulate ways the town can address the growing need for housing in the region and encourages exploration of the existing zoning bylaws to help achieve those results,” Gray said.

With more time on the project in the coming weeks, Architecture students may look to further refine and develop the housing included in the project, Smiarowski said, adding that she appreciated the ideas and suggestions offered in response to the concepts.

Students said they learned a lot by partnering across the two schools.

“This tested everyone’s limits,” Chmielinski said. “We had never worked outside our discipline, so this will help in the real world.”

“Our group meshed together well, and we highlighted each other’s strengths,” Smiarowski said. “I think our collaboration was effective.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.