• Berenson Associates, responsible for Freeport Village Station, is purchasing the Denney Block and seeks a contract zone for a new building.

The developer of Freeport Village Station has a purchase-and-sale agreement with pioneering Freeport businessman George Denney to acquire the downtown Denney Block, and plans to construct a new building on a vacant parcel within that block.

Boston-based Berenson Associates wants to construct a new building in the space where steps now lead to a small plaza between 56 and 58 Main St.

The Denney Block comprises the buildings from Mill Street to the Cole Haan building. That includes 56 and 58 Main St., the vacant space and 66 Main St.

“That’s a lot of retail space that is changing hands,” Keith McBride, executive director of the Freeport Economic Development Corp., said Monday.

Berenson Associates must go through what could be a lengthy town process to clear the way for construction at the open portion of the Denney Block. The first step is a Project Review Board public hearing on a request to demolish a portion of the side of the building on the street level at 58 Main St., site of Vineyard Vines and Fiore Artisan Olive Oils & Vinegars. The hearing is set for Wednesday, Jan. 14, at 6 p.m. The Freeport Town Council, on Tuesday, Jan. 20, at 6:30 p.m., will then hold a public hearing on a proposed contract zoning amendment for the property.

Denney, who has called Freeport home for more than seven decades, said this week that Berenson Associates was the right company to sell to. To the rear of the Denney Block, Berenson Associates built Freeport Village Station, which takes up 120,000 square feet and includes about 40 retail stores. It changed the look and dynamic of the town’s shopping area when it was completed in the spring of 2009. The multi-level complex includes a 550-car parking garage.

“The Berensons are the right ones to do it because of the great space we have around us,” Denney said. “It’s time for us to sell.”

Denney was responsible for the success of Cole Haan, a shoe manufacturer he took from relative obscurity in 1975 to international success in the 1990s. After selling Cole Haan for $95 million to Nike in 1988, Denney remained as chief executive officer of the company until 2002. In 2001, Denney started the Freeport Community Improvement Association, a volunteer organization of residents, merchants, business and property owners who combine their efforts to beautify the village.

Denney purchased the Cole Haan building and sold shoes there at a time – 1982 – when people said that couldn’t be done in Freeport, he said. Cole Haan did well, then Denney bought the adjoining buildings, turning them into retail space, as well.

“I’ve done a lot for Freeport,” Denney said.

Al Yebba, senior vice president and chief operating officer for Berenson Associates, agrees.

“He was instrumental into building Freeport into what it has become,” Yebba said.

Yebba said he doesn’t know what will become of Fiore Artisan Olive Oils & Vinegars and Dooney & Bourke, both located at the bottom of the steps in the pavilion, where the new building will go up.

“We will attempt to accommodate them in any way that we can,” Yebba said. “The impact will be limited to two tenants – Fiore and Dooney.”

Town Planner Donna Larson has suggested a contract zoning amendment to allow for a taller building than the 35 feet now allowed in the village district, rather than to have the developer seek a district-wide zoning amendment.

“It’s a slope, and it exceeds height limitations,” Larson told the Town Council on Jan. 6. “It’s not an issue with the other sites in the village district. The height limitations were put there because of fire protection, and there are no such limitations now for the fire department.”

The Jan. 20 public hearing and possible Town Council vote would be the first in a four-step process for town approval of the project. If the council agrees that a contract zoning amendment is appropriate, the application would go to the Planning Board for comments only. The Project Review Board later would vote on it, and then send the matter back to the Town Council.”

Sean Selby of Arrowstreet, the Boston architectural firm for Berenson Associates, told the council on Jan. 6 that the 10,000-square-foot building represents a “large investment” for his client. Selby also said that Berenson has no tenants in mind yet.

“It’s early,” he said.

Selby showed the council diagrams, illustrating that the new building would look much like the Cole Haan building at 66 Main St., and the Jones New York/Vineyard Vines building at 58 Main St. Sperry Top-Sider and Jill McGowan operate from a shorter brick building at 56 Main St., on the other side of the small plaza. Selby’s drawings showed a small overhang on the fourth (including the basement) floor of the new building on the 56 Main St. side, which, he said, could perhaps be used for outdoor dining.

“It’s a good first stab at designing,” said Lee Lowery, lawyer for the applicant.

Town Manager Peter Joseph told the council that the operative question regarding the proposal is the “appropriateness of contract zoning.”

“I’m sure that there will be comments made on the design of the project,” Larson said. “It is a zoning amendment, and the Town Council would have to approve it. It’s a long process.”

“We want to introduce a gable shape, wooden, like the first two buildings,” Selby said. “We figure the average height is around 43 feet, which obviously is around 8 feet over what the limit is.”

Arrowstreet, the Boston architectural firm for Berenson Associates, provided a drawing of a planned 10,000-square-foot building proposed for 56 and 58 Main St. in Freeport. Courtesy imageBerenson Associates, which has an agreement to buy the Denney Block, wants to construct a new building in the space between 56 and 58 Main Street in Freeport, between Jones New York/Vineyard Vines on the left and Sperry Top-Sider/Jill McGowan on the right. Staff photo by Larry Grard


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