Today, has a split personality. On one side, an upscale destination marketplace has steadily cemented itself as one of the state’s prime shopping spots, chock full of exclusive and high-draw retailers such as , , and others.
On the other side, tens of thousands of square feet of commercial space sits unused inside big boxes. One by one, the large anchor stores have bankrupted or gone out of business and departed, victims of the bad economy, leaving behind vast vacant shells and rows of empty parking spaces.
This soon will change.
The Wilder Companies, which manages the shopping center, announced today that it plans to link Garden City Center’s two halves into one unified village in a three-phase, multimillion dollar project. The first step entails a new, 20,000 square foot building across from the gazebo and adjacent to that will house two well-known national retailers “new to the market,” said Thomas V. Wilder, a principal of the Wilder Companies. The new building will also act as a bridge for the successful “village” shopping area to expand and transform the unoccupied zone.
Eventually, the empty storefronts that used to be home to Linens and Things, Circuit City and Borders Bookstore, will be “deboxed” and broken up into small to mid-sized storefronts with the same look and feel as the more successful portion of Garden City Center.
“Now with the expansion, we will be able to bridge the gap and extend that village experience through the balance of the center,” Wilder said.
Wilder said that phase one will require about a $6 to $8 million investment and will make the gazebo, which currently acts as a divide between two halves, into the center — and focal point— of Garden City Center as a whole thanks to new landscaping and parking using permeable pavers.
The goal is to make the gazebo "function on a daily basis as opposed to the existing 12 to 14 times a year," Wilder said. "It enables us now to make that leap across. Instead of it being an end cap, we want to make it the focal point of the center."
Phase two will tackle the strip of storefronts known as the Commons, currently home to , and , transforming an architecturally-dated strip mall into a logical extension of the nearby upscale village. The spaces once occupied by large format stores will be broken up into 3,000 to 10,000-square-foot stores and restaurants with an anticipated construction completion date of early 2013.
Wilder said breaking-up the space will make new leases with new tenants possible. It's not as if there hasn't been demand. In fact, many national retailers have wanted in, but Wilder couldn't accommodate them.
Additionally, the Gazebo will get a thorough makeover and overall traffic flow for cars and pedestrians will be improved, said Andrew T. LaGrega, another principal of The Wilder Companies.
The company also announced that Ann Taylor is coming to Garden City in July and Williams-Sonoma is moving to the space formerly occupied by Eddie Bauer. Filling the spot left by Williams-Sonoma will be a “new specialty sportswear retailer,” according to a release. , , Providence Diamond Company, Hallmark (under renovation) and Yankee Candle have all entered into new leases and will be performing “major interior and exterior store renovations.”
Starbucks, in particular, could be expanded during the whole process. Wilder said the company will do everything it can to help Starbucks expand and keep its spot near the Route 2 entrance to Garden City Center.
Cranston Mayor Allan W. Fung said the city will work with The Wilder Companies and help the company continue to expand and improve the shopping center, which brings in millions in tax revenue for the city.
“There truly is something in the air today,” Fung said, referencing the shopping center’s slogan. “They are at the heart of the city of Cranston and I think with the expansion they’re doing, you’re going to see a new face of Garden City, one that will really, really leave a lasting imprint on our city and our state and make it a fantastic destination for a new generation of shoppers into the city.”
Phase three will finally link the spur that includes Whole Foods to the rest of the shopping center, bringing with it a redesigned entrance and improved traffic flow. Phase two and three will encompass investments in the “tens of millions,” Wilder said.
Garden City Center encompasses a half-million square feet of retail and office space and 55 stores.
"Retailing in the United States has changed, and Garden City Center needs to provide retailers and consumers with the atmosphere, amenities and experience they want in a 21st Century shopping center," Wilder said.