Suburban trade is radically transformed | Business premises
As brick-and-mortar retailers battle the combined forces of online sales, the so-called “retail apocalypse” and the Covid-19 pandemic, owners of some local shopping meccas are remodeling their properties.
Traditional malls are fighting for their lives, as shoppers flock online or visit specialty big-box stores in so-called malls instead of strolling the hallways of closed malls.
Covid fears and the loss of Canadian shoppers over the past 18 months have only added to their woes locally as they have also lost stores and closed food courts or other attractions due to pandemic restrictions.
This forces owners of malls and other shopping malls to make tough decisions about the future and how to recover.
In some cases, like Walden Galleria or Fashion Outlets in Niagara Falls, mall and plaza owners are simply actively looking for new tenants to fill the empty space vacated by store closures. The Galleria also emphasizes entertainment options.
But in others, they are planning sweeping transformations that will change not only the landscape of malls and malls, but also the neighborhoods around them.
Here’s a look at what’s happening at some of the region’s biggest projects and how they evolve in an uncertain environment.
Owner/developer: Douglas Jemal’s Douglas Development Corp. It does not own the former Sears store, now Gabe’s, or the former Macy’s Men’s and BAC store, all of which are owned by Benderson Development Co.
The plan: Jemal plans to transform the 63-acre mall property into a “little town” dubbed Boulevard Place, creating a mix of residential, office and retail space, with tree-lined streets running through the property.
He is working with city officials on the project, which requires rezoning and other city approvals. The city wants to start digging streets and installing sewer lines and other infrastructure this year, with Jemal starting work soon after.
Its 10-year overhaul would begin with the construction of an apartment building along Alberta Drive between the mall and the nearby Wegmans supermarket. Future work would bring more residential units, shops, restaurants, and recreational activities, such as a public park, especially along Niagara Falls Boulevard and Maple Road.
Status: Jemal bought the mall and adjacent Wegmans for $30 million. The city reduced the fair market value of the property by 59% to $13.5 million, while lowering the assessed value to $11.9 million to save taxes.
The city has also hired renowned civic planning firm Dover, Kohl & Partners to create a design for a larger area that includes the mall as well as the adjacent commercial corridor between Sheridan Drive, Maple Road and the old university campus of Buffalo Ridge Lea.
And after: Discussions are ongoing between Jemal and the city.
Owner/developer: Uniland Development Co. and Mountain Development Corp.
The plan: Transform the 100-acre mall and mall into the $250 million mixed-use Eastern Hills Town Center, with more than 1,500 apartments, senior housing, 1 million square feet of office space, a brewery, restaurants with patios and a hotel.
It would also include medical space, retail, and civic and recreational areas, including a public park and barn-style event spaces. Apartments, townhouses, offices, hotel, and walking paths would surround shops, restaurants, and public spaces, and streets would be cut through the property for direct access.
Status: Developers submitted plans to the city for approval, changed architects and scaled back some of their original plans due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
They halved the planned commercial space and eliminated a second hotel. However, they have also increased the number of apartments by 50% due to perceived demand. They also now plan to reuse as many existing structures as possible instead of tearing them down and rebuilding them. The mall remains open.
And after: The municipal approval process and pre-development planning will likely take 12 to 18 months, so construction is not expected to begin until at least the second half of 2022, beginning at the north end of the property.
Northtown Plaza/Station Twelve
Owner/developer: Web development
The plan: Transform the former Northtown Plaza – which hadn’t seen major investment in years – into a retail destination and “lifestyle hub,” anchored by the west’s premier location of New York from Whole Foods and other national retail chains.
Status: Boston’s WS Development bought the former 18-acre Northtown Plaza in 2015 for $18.5 million, then built a new Whole Foods grocery store in 2017 in place of an old two-story retail building.
He then emptied the remaining tenants of the rest of the square, demolished the other structures, cleared the site, and began construction of a series of six new buildings that would surround a public plaza.
But the project was delayed even before the pandemic and has been on hold since March 2020. WS says it has tenants lined up to occupy its new space, including national At Home store, as well as Banana Republic, Williams Sonoma, Pottery Barn, West Elm , Athletica and Vineyard Vines.
But it has already lost LL Bean to Benderson Development’s The Boulevard complex further north.
And after: Amherst officials are pressuring WS Development to change its plans, expanding the project to a mixed-use mix of other commercial and retail developments in addition to stores.
WS confirmed to city officials that they were having substantive discussions with other local developers who would join and reformat the project. The city has already rezoned the property for mixed use.
Owner/developer: Kohan Retail Investment Group, owned by Mehran Kohansieh, who also goes through Mike Kohan
The plan: Uncertain, but Kohan has 42 older, second-tier malls nationwide. Its website says it sees these aging malls as “a place to do more than shop,” and particularly as a place where small businesses can get a boost.
Kohan says he’s open to bringing in new tenants, but would like to see smaller local stores, as well as potentially non-traditional users like call centers.
Status: Kohan bought the Hamburg shopping center from a court-appointed receiver for $8.5 million and overcame a legal challenge from the City of Hamburg and Benderson Development, which was willing to pay a higher price but is arrived late.
The city had questioned Kohan’s financial ability to complete the deal and redevelop the mall, citing a history of criticism of the company in other communities for unpaid tax and utility bills, power outages, poor maintenance and other problems. The city previously rezoned the property to encourage more commercial interest after the mall lost most of its domestic tenants.