By Lauren Zaepfel
Owner Zoran Cocov has significant plans for the former Summit Park Mall in Wheatfield.
Last month, his ideas surrounding the addition of a sports complex to the mall were brought in front of the Wheatfield Planning Board with an initial sketch and proposal outlining phase one and phase two of the project.
Phase one consists of construction of a 138,600-square-foot dome that reaches 110 feet high. It will be attached to the backside of the mall, housing playing fields and a series of basketball courts.
Sportsplex Consultant Neal Turvey, who has been working with Cocov, said the facility will consist of a turf that can be broken up into two soccer fields and four baseball or softball fields. There will also be five full-sized basketball courts, eight volleyball courts and even a roller hockey rink inside.
In addition, Turvey said "The middle-third of the mall (inside, near the front entrance facing Williams Road), will be redeveloped and there will be a sports village in there - that will include a pizza shop and a doughnut shop and a pro shop. ... We're hoping to have a sports bar in there, a workout center, sports training."
The mall is also planned to feature sports facilities that do not require high ceilings, such as batting cages and shooting booths for soccer and lacrosse.
"They're incorporating into the design of the mall all these features so (many people) will be parking out front and they'll be going through the mall into the sports complex," Town of Wheatfield Planning Board Chairman Walter Garrow said. "There'll be more foot traffic going through the mall."
View of the current state of the backside of the Summit Mall, where the inflatable sports dome is proposed to be added. (Staff photo)
Cocov's plan for phase two involves the addition of an ice rink facility. Seating areas, press boxes, luxury seats and a video board are also in mind to make "for a real championship-type facility," Turvey said.
Turvey explained there will be two separate buildings - the bubble dome and an actual "hard structure" building to house the ice rink and other aspects of that facility.
He said one of the main focuses of the entire project was to design a concept that would support events such as championship games and tournaments. "We want to hold mini-weekend tournaments and camps and even coaches trade shows and things that kind of support all that. So it all works hand in hand and there will also be a bunch of local organizations that will use it when there's not events - they'll use it for their training for other activities or even local leagues that we can run," he said.
In adding a sports complex to the mall, "We tried to make it a community thing, because those are the kids that are going to use this," Turvey said.
"Many Wheatfield residents love their sports, and we try to offer services for them. But if a private developer can make a few bucks by offering sports to Wheatfield and other area residents, or tournaments which may pull in teams from all over, that is great for Wheatfield, as well," Town of Wheatfield Supervisor Robert Cliffe said.
Although the sports complex will be available for local residents, Turvey said another major goal is to run something that "keeps on refreshing clientele."
He went on to say "The kids locally will get a chance to use it - they'll have a ball using it - but it really doesn't help the community if it's just those kids all the time. We need to bring others in, we need to run tournaments."
He explained "All the youth athletics have gone to travel, where teams no longer take a family vacation anymore. What they do is they add a couple days more to every one of their sports vacations. And that's where this has gone."
With Niagara Falls just a few miles away, Turvey expects families to stay in the area longer than just a day or two when attending their children's sporting events at the Summit Mall. "We wanted people to grab a couple meals, hang out in the hotel room for a couple nights," he said. "Niagara Falls is a Godsend - everybody knows where it is. ... So Zoran came in and felt that this just makes sense because of Niagara Falls - because it's something they're going to see maybe once, maybe twice in their lifetime."
Currently, the back parking lot area of the mall is riddled with potholes, large areas of cracked pavement and overgrown with weeds.
"It's just going to help the whole area there. It's just going to revitalize that spot, because, right now, there's not much," Turvey said. "If you're not trying to bring traffic there or operating businesses, nobody's going to take care of it, nobody's going to cut the grass. They're not going to clean up outside. It's almost an open invite to hang out and get in trouble. The more activities there are there, the more secure the site is, the cleaner it will be kept."
Garrow said the current independent anchor stores located at the Summit Mall - Sears, Save-A-Lot and Bon-Ton - will remain in operation during the mall's transformation. Turvey described these anchor stores as "hanging on" for the past several years.
"There's been so many things that have been proposed for Summit Park Mall that haven't come around," Turvey said, as the mall has declined since its prime in the '80s and early '90s. "It's been a 20-year sore thumb," he added.
"Any project which brings new life to the Summit Mall has to be good for Wheatfield residents. Nobody likes to see this once vibrant mall go to ruin," Cliffe said.
As far as the costs involved toward resurrecting the Summit Mall, Turvey said it's just too early in the project to predict numbers, especially since it involves multiple stages of development.
"We've been in front of the Planning Board for Wheatfield and for the county. They've both been terrific. They've been very supportive - they're trying to get something done," Turvey said.
Garrow said comments were made by board members at the Oct. 21 Planning Board meeting that implied this could be very helpful for the developments within the mall.
Turvey said, "We've already got a number of youth organizations that are on board and want to be involved with this. The activity is not going to be an issue. ... We're close. We're in the process on time at this point. ... We want to have the building up by June, if at all possible."
He is hopeful for a soft opening in mid-September and a grand opening in early October. "So by the time the crummy weather hits, we've got somewhere for the kids to go," he said.