Will bfresh Finally Save Developer’s Vision of Cushing Village?

Photo: bfresh in Belmont?

According to two sources with knowledge of talks transpiring between the parties, it appears the developer of the long-stalled Cushing Village development is seeking to bring a new small-format supermarket developed by a large international chain to become the project’s anchor tenant.

According to sources, developer Smith Legacy Partners is in discussions with Ahold, the Netherland-based parent of Stop & Shop Supermarket Company of Quincy, to bring its test model bfresh concept market to the 164,000 sq.-ft. residential/retail/parking complex at the corner of Common Street and Trapelo Road in the heart of Cushing Square.

The bfresh concept was created by Fresh Formats; a Ahold company started in 2014 to explore new and innovative format opportunities, in an attempt to compete with other smaller stores such as Traders Joe.

According to Suzi Robinson, marketing magus for Fresh Formats would only say “we’re exploring opportunities for future stores in the greater Boston area, but don’t have any news to share yet.”

A representative from Smith Legacy has not yet responded to questions. In the past week, Starr said his search for a “small-format food store anchor tenant” is “progressing.” 

The importance of a large retail tenant to secure the future of the project was stressed in a pair of updates Starr provided the Planning Board since the beginning of the year, stating “construction financing has hinged in the past on our retail pre-leading activity.” As of Jan. 25, the development team said they have secured only two 

As of Jan. 25, the development team said they have obtained only a pair of leases in the 31 months since it was granted approval to begin construction. The two potential tenants – a restaurant/pub and an unnamed “national” retailer so far will fill about 12,000 of the 38,000 sq.-ft. retail space available. 

It will be crucial for the Smith Legacy team to “land” a multi-year lease to reassure lenders of its financial wherewithal. It is why Starr has been trumpeting the fact his team is actively courting bfresh. 

“We are in discussions with a financially strong, experienced, market[-]leader that prides itself on providing fresh, high-quality prepared food and other necessities in a small format store,” wrote Starr in the second of the updates.

The reason a deal has not been struck so far has to do with the experimental nature of the concept itself – Ahold wants to take a longer look at the stores’ performance (a second outlet was opened in Fairfield, Conn. in October) – and what appears to be a very competitive environment for this model in Belmont, with the existing Russo’s Market in nearby Watertown and a Foodies Urban Market to open in Belmont Center in the fall of 2016 with a Cushing Village operation unlikely ready until 2017.

Ahold opened its inaugural bfresh store in Boston’s Allston neighborhood in September in a former Staples at 214 Harvard Ave. a block from Comm. Ave. bfresh is a test model store that “presents itself as a solution for neighborhood shoppers — particularly young people — frustrated by compromises on quality, price and convenience at typical food stores,” reported Supermarket News on Aug 20, 2015.

The small for supermarket 10,000 sq.-ft. store is “focused on “fresh foods, smart value, and right in your hood” according to the Ahold website, offering “more natural and organic options than a typical market, vegan and gluten-free options, and foods from around the world.”

Stores also stock freshly prepared foods in its “Little Kitchen™, a fresh-on-the-spot experience that brings made from scratch, always fresh, seasonal meals into the store. Menus change daily, showcasing simple recipes made with fresh ingredients for maximum taste.”

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