Coming Soon to Natick Mall: a pickleball club

BOSTON, MA – October 10, 2023

The old Neiman Marcus at the mall could be converted into a club for the region’s hottest new sport

It’s essentially the 2020s commercial real estate market in microcosm: After floating plans for labs to fill the former Neiman Marcus building at the Natick Mall, its owner is now looking to convert the two-story space into a massive pickleball club.

This might seem like a strange fate for a place where, as recently as last year, shoppers were browsing through $1,000-plus Jimmy Choo handbags and $800 pairs of Christian Louboutin pumps. But developer Bulfinch has already succeeded with similar conversions: The former Atrium Mall in Chestnut Hill is now the Life Time Center, named after the supersized fitness club that serves as the health and wellness center’s anchor, and a former Dick’s Sporting Goods at the Westgate Mall in Brockton has been leased to Urban Air Adventure Park.

These projects are part of a broader trend as large vacant spaces at shopping malls are increasingly being renovated and repurposed for sports and entertainment uses. At the Natick Mall, for example, a shuttered American Girl doll store is slated to be a Puttshack indoor miniature golf course, and a “challenge room” complex known as Level99 opened in the former Sears.

In Natick, Bulfinch had originally hoped to convert the 94,000-square-foot Neiman Marcus building, which is owned separately from the adjacent mall, into lab space. But residents in condos at the mall raised concerns, and, after surging in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for suburban lab properties has sagged considerably in the past year or so.

Bulfinch now wants to work with fitness center operator D.J. Bosse to reshape the Neiman Marcus building for pickleball players.

Bosse is already a familiar face to many who live in the Nouvelle condo complex at the mall: He operated a fitness center there until 2020, along with an eponymous fitness club in Sudbury. Bosse retrenched when the pandemic hit, and state restrictions temporarily closed gyms and fitness centers around the state. But he reemerged recently by opening a fitness club in Hyde Park under the Bosse Sports banner. That facility includes four pickleball courts as well as basketball courts that can double as, yes, three more pickleball courts.

Bosse said pickleball’s relative ease of play and inexpensiveness, along with its social aspects, have caused it to catch on. But he’s also aware of the issues that have arisen because of that popularity: Outdoor pickleball games sparked complaints about the noise or conflicts with tennis players and others who also want to use the courts. Dedicated indoor spaces address those problems, he said.

“We’re basically getting overwhelmed with pickleball players,” Bosse said of his Hyde Park gym. “There really hasn’t been a sport like this that has taken the US by storm and has stuck in this way [in a long time]. … I started looking for an amazing location where I can create a category within the pickleball space that is top-of-the-line from the standpoint of the experience: competition, entertainment and recreation.

”That quest brought Bosse back to the Natick Mall, where the Neiman Marcus building was available. Bosse’s proposed club would feature 21 pickleball courts as well as a full-service restaurant and two bars, locker rooms, and space for personal training. Bosse has already signed a lease with Bulfinch, which bought the building in late 2021, but still needs planning board approval for the change in use. He expects to invest $10 million to $15 million in renovations and plans to employ 30 to 50 people once it opens, potentially in mid-2024. Bosse would generate revenue from memberships, parties, corporate events, clinics, and tournaments, as well as one-time fees from visitors who pay as they play.

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