Grant rescinded for Summit Mall project
By David Yarger
The Summit Park Mall has stood completely vacant for a little less than a year, and it could stay that way a bit longer.
On Tuesday, during the Wheatfield Local Development Corporation’s annual meeting, the group announced the Big Thunder Brewing project is not ready to move forward at this time.
The WLDC has worked with Big Thunder Brewing for two-plus years regarding its project at the former mall.
“Chuck (Bell, senior vice president of H. Sicherman/The Harrison Studio) and I had met with Big Thunder ownership, and at this particular time … they are not ready to move forward,” WLDC Chairman Bill Wagner said. “There is nosense in keeping the OCR (Office of Community Renewal) grant open at this particular time, and, furthermore, based on some of the discussion we had with them, it may ultimately change. They might not need as much as the $750 (thousand) that we applied for. So the best solution for us at this particular time is to rescind that money.”
Bell noted that the OCR said the rescinding of the grant would not be perceived negatively and that taking the proactive action is “something they appreciate when it comes to that.”
Additionally, Bell said, the OCR would reconsider if the Big Thunder project gains any type of momentum moving forward in the future.
Board member Richard Muscatello asked Wagner if Big Thunder would be returning or not. Wagner replied, “I’d hate to even venture a guess at this particular moment. And I don’t mean to be negative, I just don’t know.”
“Did they give you a reason?” Muscatello asked.
Wagner replied, “They just simply can’t get funding in the United States. Because they have all their assets in Canada, for the most part. They’re just having a very, very difficult time getting funding in the United States. … You look at the exchange rate; that’s a very expensive venture for them to try and convert Canadian funds into U.S. funds.”
Wagner added that Big Thunder continues to look for avenues of funding in the U.S.
With the Summit Mall looking like a ghost town of sorts, Wagner said it is sad to see the project not moving forward at the moment.
“I’m disappointed, obviously, because that property has a lot of potential,” Wagner said. “We’ve been going back and forth with them (Big Thunder) for a couple of years now – even prior to when we applied for the grant. … I think from our perspective … we’ve all done what we can to get them to this point. They got to stick a shovel in the ground. How many times have I said that? You can’t expect anyone to believe anything at this particular moment until you guys actually start doing something.”
Wagner added, “It’s disconcerting that they’re not putting enough of their own capital into this. If you really believe in your project, I think you have to step up and put some money into it and get one of the two things rolling.”
Another proposal for the mall facility is the Niagara International Sports and Entertainment Event Center. The project involves two steel structures in the rear of the mall complex built for indoor sports parks.
Between Big Thunder and the sports parks, it was expected, according to Wagner, the two would go “hand in hand, because one would drive business to the other.”
There’s been no update on construction of the sports structures, and since work hasn’t begun, Wagner said Big Thunder could be looking at the entire mall as a whole.
“The fact that they haven’t even started to build the sports complex is a big deal,” Wagner said. “From their perspective, they look at everything together.”
He noted the WLDC only works with Big Thunder and not NISE.
In other news:
•The WLDC elected its directors, as well as officers. Dawn Gilliam, Vic Montalbo, Wagner and Muscatello were elected to three-year terms to stay on the board of directors. Additionally, Wagner was elected to a one-year term as chairman. Bob Cliffe will stay with the WLDC as the secretary on a one-year term; and Montalbo will continue another year as treasurer.
With a vacant spot on the board, Wagner nominated Richard Torcasio to fill the void. He said Torcasio will be a great addition to the WLDC.
“Rich is a fantastic individual. He’s been involved with different Wheatfield focus groups. … I think he’d be a great addition,” Wagner said. “He’s very involved. … Richard was actually the one who came up with the idea for the LDC. He thought it would be a good idea in a way we could potentially really assist the community.”
Muscatello added, “He’s got a lot of good ideas.”
Torcasio’s nomination was approved by the board.
•Wagner said he and Bell will meet with representatives from Barge Brewing on Thursday afternoon. Barge Brewing reached out with interest in the Bergholz area.
“Until we get to the point where they’re comfortable in their timeline and the number of jobs they’re projecting -- until all of those pieces are in alignment -- the LDC as an entity isn’t in a position to make any decisions until that application goes in. Once that application goes in and they’ve met all the initial requirements, then it’ll be up to the town to make the application. Then the town will decide if they want to assign that to LDC,” Wagner said. “We’re probably several months away. … I think we’re on a fact-finding mission. I wouldn’t classify it as anything more than that. At this particular moment, we’re not ready to move forward with anything until we get more information.”
He said the prospect of the Medina brewery coming to town is exciting and, if the owners can bring the same success to Wheatfield that they have in their current location, it would be nice for the municipality.
•The corporation is committed to fostering new business as well as retaining and expanding existing local businesses to build economic capacity specific to the Town of Wheatfield.
For more information regarding the WLDC, visit wheatfieldbusiness.com.