CHESHIRE –– After a five-year delay, a 500,000-square-foot outlet shopping center appears likely to become a reality.

On July 22, the Cheshire Town Planning & Zoning Commission unanimously approved Massachusetts-based WS Development's Special Development Project master plan for the Outlets at Cheshire. The vote followed a green light from the Cheshire Inland, Wetlands & Watercourses Commission.

According to the plan, Phase I, the outlet center, will be built on Route 10 at the intersection of I-691, on the southeast side of the Ten Mile River. Later additions to the project could include a health and fitness club, hotel and townhouses on the other side of the river, which bisects the 114-acre property.

The project has been in the works since 2007, explains Louis Masiello, vice president of development for WS Development.

“We think the area is an underserved market without good quality retail of any significant size and scale,” Masiello explains. “We saw this hole in the market with really great demographics, and also saw this incredible access to the regional highway network.”

In the early stages, WS entered into purchase agreements with several landowners and, in 2008, received town approvals for a special development district.

“Then the economy really stalled, as did our ability to secure tenancies for the space,” Masiello says. “We maintained permits by extensions, maintained land agreements and continued to market to retailers. Then last year things changed, the momentum picked up and we identified this resurgence in demand.”

WS updated its plan, shifting from a traditional shopping center to a more pedestrian-oriented outdoor outlet center featuring high-end designer brands, and resubmitted them this year. Masiello says the company now is working on detailed design, which includes 30-foot spaces between the single story “clapboard New England style” shops.

He envisions between 50 and 60 brand-name retailers, including purveyors of fashion apparel, athletic ware, footware, giftware and kitchenware, occupying around 5,000 to 6,000 square feet each in the outlet center. “We have leases out being negotiated for about ten [stores] and are at the letter-of-intent stages for ten to 12,” he says, but declines to identify the retailers. The company also is seeking a specialty or organic grocer for a 40,000-square-foot store to anchor one end of the complex. He also says the center will have “quite a bit of restaurant activity.”

Masiello estimates the entire project, when fully built, will cost at least $100 million.

It also is expected to create 400 jobs during construction and around 1,100 full- and part-time permanent jobs afterwards. It will also generate $2.2 million annually in tax revenues to the town, Masiello says.

WS will be seeking final site plan approval from the town this fall, Masiello says, along with requisite state Department of Transportation and Department of Energy & Environmental Protection approvals.

If the company secures all outstanding local and state permits by the end of 2013, building the outlet center will commence in early 2014 with completion of Phase I –– and tenant occupancy –– in summer or autumn of 2015.

Further construction, in one or two more phases, could start “about a year after Phase I, depending on market conditions,” Masiello says. Those plans, for the part of the site across the river from the outlet center, include a 146-unit townhouse development and an “intermediate zone of low-intensity scale commercial development” with a health and fitness club, a four-story, 50,000-square-foot hotel and a “public gathering lawn for community events, less intense than concerts,” on the riverbank across from the shops.

“We have yet to secure users for intermediate commercial zone,” Masiello acknowledges. 

WS Development developed the Shoppes at Farmington Valley in Canton and manages several other shopping complexes in Connecticut, including Meetingbrook in Wallingford, Waterford Park North and Walmarts in Cromwell and Putnam.