Powerhouse Mall in West Lebanon purchased by Hanover real estate firm

By JOHN LIPPMAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 02-05-2022 1:48 AM

WEST LEBANON — A Hanover commercial real estate firm believes — to adapt a misquote from Mark Twain — that reports about the death of bricks-and-mortar retail are greatly exaggerated.

In fact, Connecticut River Capital is adamant that retail stores have a healthy life ahead. And the firm just made a big bet on it.

CRC, a growing real estate investment firm, has purchased Powerhouse Mall in West Lebanon, a landmark commercial property that has weathered several recessions and the increasing migration of shoppers online.

“Despite all that’s gone on the last few years, the market’s improved; the retail market in general has been actually quite strong and the broader Upper Valley growth — as demonstrated by the most recent census results — should hopefully continue that trend going forward,” said Geoff Colla, principal of CRC. “We’re optimistic about the West Lebanon retail landscape.”

Colla, who grew up in Hanover and graduated from Dartmouth College in 2004, founded CRC in 2011 after working in the commercial real estate business in San Francisco. His firm already owns two familiar prestige commercial properties in the area — the Bridgman building on South Main Street in Hanover (where CRC’s offices are located) and the Rivermill Office Park on Mechanic Street in Lebanon — in addition to a historic 10-story gothic beaux-arts style office building in downtown Portland, Maine, and Equinox Junior, an office and retail complex in the heart of Manchester, Vt.

Colla said that CRC paid “a little bit under” $12 million for the Powerhouse Mall, which has 20 tenants including L.L. Bean, Eastern Mountain Sports, Amidon Jewelers, Yankee Candle and the restaurant Lui Lui.

Once the site of an 18th-century grist and cotton mill at the tributary of the Mascoma River, Powerhouse Mall was built by Upper Valley developer Bayne Stevenson in the mid-1980s as a venue for retail stores to capture the flow of traffic near the interchange of two of northern New England’s busiest highways.

Stevenson later sold the property to the New Hampshire Retirement System in 1994 for $6.1 million, according to Lebanon property records.

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Poor management of Powerhouse Mall led to a defection of tenants and in 1999 the NHRS unloaded the property to Evergreen Capital Partners, a Lebanon-based commercial property company, for $5 million.

Evergreen, a partnership between Lebanon developers Hans Copeland and Romer Holleran, is credited with stabilizing Powerhouse Mall, which, despite the woes that have beset some retailers, has had relatively little turnover in tenants under their ownership.

The site, which has five buildings, including the main 111,000-square-foot, two-floor indoor shopping mall, is assessed at $11 million, according to city records.

A new landlord, especially after a long tenure of a previous owner, can be jarring for tenants.

But Eric Roberts, owner of Lui Lui, which has operated for 30 years at Powerhouse Mall, said he is not particularly worried.

Roberts, who called Copeland and Holleran “attentive and responsive landlords,” said he expects they wouldn’t put Powerhouse Mall into the hands of a new owner who would run roughshod over tenants, as happened in the 1990s.

“I am confident that they have chosen a successor to carry on this great tradition,” Roberts said via email Thursday.

Colla said keeping the Powerhouse Mall under local ownership was important for Copeland and Holleran, who also own three office complexes at Centerra in Lebanon.

“They felt a local owner would benefit both the property and the tenants, especially given the high concentration of local retail proprietors in the mall,” he said. (Among the 20 tenants, only three are large chain retailers, and half are small stores owned by women.)

Copeland and Holleran did not respond to messages for comment.

During the pandemic, many of the tenants likened Powerhouse Mall to a small town where the store owners all know each other and said the landlord was accommodating with rent forbearance: Only two stores closed, but an equal number of new stores opened.

At present only two storefronts are vacant.

Colla said that there may be opportunity in the future to build or expand at Powerhouse Mall — “it’s a big site,” he explained — “but we don’t intend to change much out of the gate. We intend to support the property as it is.”

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.

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