Mall currently vacant; interest looms
By David Yarger
The Summit Park Mall along Williams Road in the Town of Wheatfield used to be a gathering place for families and friends to shop, socialize and have an enjoyable time. In 2018, the mall is completely vacant, as the two remaining tenants - Sears and The Bon Ton - have shut their doors.
Some are worried the mall could turn into an eyesore for the town, but interest has been shown for future developments.
Big Thunder Brewing proposed a sports bar, brewery and restaurant to be constructed in the old Toys R' Us building - most recently vacated by Save-A-Lot.
Along with the brewery, Niagara International Sports and Entertainment Event Center proposed the construction of two metal buildings in the back of the mall, which would be used as a sports complex.
In early February, the projects were tentatively slated for finish in "late 2018." At a recent Wheatfield Local Development Corporation meeting, the annual report was handed out, and in the 2018 outlook, it said, "The Big Thunder Brewing project will continue forward. We anticipate a closing at some point in 2018 with project completion being in 2019. Due to potential construction or other issues, it's hard to forecast the exact numbers at this time."
WLDC Chairman Bill Wagner said it's frustrating to see the mall dead like it is, but his most recent update on the mall was that the Big Thunder Brewing project was continuing to move forward. "No one more than me wants to see the mall move forward with something," Wagner said.
Town of Wheatfield Supervisor Don MacSwan said it's tough to see the mall the way it is now, especially with his history dating back to the beginning of the mall.
"I was actually at the groundbreaking of the Summit Park Mall," MacSwan said. "I remember everyone was thinking this would be the new beginning of Wheatfield. The mall was going to be the answer to the development of Wheatfield - draw in more homes - which it did."
MacSwan said he saw the growth of the mall as building inspector for the town, and he played a big role in the development of the second phase of the mall. Along with growth, though, MacSwan said he saw the turn where the mall began to lose some power.
"All over the country you see malls diminishing," he said. "I think a lot of it is internet sales. ... It's almost hard to believe it could happen. It just shows you the changing times. And if someone came up to me and said, 'You think that mall is going to close in 10 years?' I would've said 'No way.' "
MacSwan said he spoke with a representative of Zoran Cocov, The Summit owner, and plans for the proposed projects are still looking to move forward. But MacSwan said the representative had interest in some of the tenant spaces related to healthcare facilities. MacSwan added, the representative could not go into detail about the subject.
MacSwan said the town has fielded numerous calls about the Sears facility.
"We've had a lot of calls on Sears - people from mostly Canada - we've rerouted the people to the owners of Sears. That building has been electrified, it has water, it's got everything else - it hasn't been sitting, it hasn't been stripped. So, we've had people calling us who are showing an interest in Bon Ton and Sears. ... Hopefully we can get something going there," he said.
Driving by the mall today could be frustrating to people who have seen the mall in the best and worst of times. MacSwan understood that sense of frustration and said, "Every time I drive by it, and I probably go past it a couple times a week, I shake my head. Just to this day, I have a hard time grasping that that's closed. ... It's not just Wheatfield, it's all over. Some people are repurposing malls, and I hope we can do the same here. ... We're open to anything."
MacSwan's overall goal for the mall was to prevent it from becoming "a ghost town," and he knows the longer a building sits, the more it will deteriorate.
"The sooner, the better we get something in there," he said.
Although MacSwan said, "The sooner, the better," he didn't take it as a sense of urgency to get the mall repurposed, but he's being "cautiously optimistic."
"Talking with the mall owners, they're still very optimistic about things happening at the mall - I am, too. I don't think it's a point of urgency yet, or panic, but I can see if we don't get something going there in a short period of time, within the next couple of years, it's going to be a problem," MacSwan said.
The mall may stand vacant, but MacSwan said he will meet with Cocov and his representatives within a month from now to discuss the future of the mall and the current status of the proposals, which MacSwan said he looked forward to.