Judge's ruling clears way for City of Batavia to assume operation of mall
An Erie County Supreme Court justice on Wednesday ruled in favor of the City of Batavia in a legal dispute with a Batavia orthodontist over the parking situation at his City Centre mall location.
“The City went before the judge (Catherine Nugent-Panepinto) with an order to show cause consistent with the settlement agreement between the City and the Mall Merchants Association, both parties were heard and the judge ‘so ordered’ the settlement agreement,” City Manager Jason Molino said today.
“This is the last piece of litigation for the City to take over operation of the mall on April 1.”
Dr. Marlin Salmon, owner of Salmon Orthodontics, brought the matter to court, seeking easement relief for parking spaces in proximity to his office.
A phone call to Dr. Salmon was not returned at the time of this story’s posting.
The settlement agreement calls for the city to retain ownership of the downtown facility's concourse, pay 100 percent of capital improvements, and take care of mall maintenance and operations.
Nobody is happy about the way this whole Mall thing has gone on for years (or that the Mall was built at all). But when you look into the 3 past contracts that are now canceled, this is a good start. Hopefully the Mall will turn around and some private management or development company will take it over.
The mall's future hinges more on what happens to the rest of downtown, which is why the DRI is so important.
There are some great proposals for DRI funds that can create more activity downtown, plus what's already in the works. The more the rest of downtown advances, the more economic pressure will build to bubble up a solution to the mall.
The mall is only about 20 percent of downtown. We should worry about it less and about the rest of downtown more. Perhaps that can happen now.
I think Howard's right about the mall's future. The more beer gardens and business incubators downtown, plus an Ellicott Street median for bike riders and pedestrians, would restore the huge crowds that once flocked to City Centre before Veterans Memorial Drive even existed.
If not, then, maybe some up-and-coming entrepreneur could erect a kiosk, selling informational brochures of the "Batavia Dig", where, if one listens closely enough, they can actually hear the final gasping breaths from Batavia's man-made dinosaur.
In California, I covered two communities that tell different tales about economic recovery.
The first was Ocean Beach, in San Diego, which had been a big hippie community in the 1960s and then fell on hard times. Empty storefronts, litter, graffiti, crime ... few pedestrians on the main business street, Newport Avenue, and it was always easy to find parking.
Then there was El Cajon. A downtown about the size of Batavia's and it too was once a buzzing, vibrant downtown with several small businesses and a J.C. Penny (where my grandmother worked for years) and a Woolworth's (where two of my uncles started their work in the retail business). It, too, fell on hard times.
In Ocean Beach, the merchants voted to tax themselves (kind of like the BID), and they also secured Community Development Block Grant funding. Under the guidance of a local architect, they started a facade rebate program and a program to relandscape Newport Avenue. Within a decade -- and it continues to today -- Newport Avenue is transformed. Every storefront is occupied by a bustling business, sidewalks full of pedestrians, and good luck finding parking (BTW: If you've ever seen the movie Almost Famous, the first shot is down a street looking out on the Pacific Ocean (that's actually Point Loma, near where I went to college) and the next scene is a boy and is mother on Newport Avenue by the Strand Theater (still exists but sadly no longer a theater -- the movie scene is set in pre-hippie Ocean Beach).
As for El Cajon, they did urban renewal. They tore down a whole city block and built space for a Smith's grocery store (a Utah-based chain of super stores). The huge store set back from the street with parking in front. It didn't fit the character at all of downtown. Smith failed. Eventually, a Von's or some such moved in). El Cajon continued to struggle. Until they started a facade rebate program. What remains of downtown now is pretty vibrant. And that parking lot that fronted main street in front of the grocery store? It's now filled with new storefronts. As downtown recovered, the economic incentive was created to build more storefront businesses.
Observing these projects informs a lot of my thinking about economic revitalization. Public-private partnerships work. The small stuff, hit lots of singles, creates momentum for bigger projects, not the other way around.
That, too, is what Tim Tielman, who has done so much to help revitalize Buffalo, especially Canalside, preaches the same thing. Canalside is a model for economic transformation and it started with vendors in tents not big buildings.
That's why my recommendation for the DRI is prioritizing the small stuff -- all of these projects requesting less than $1.5 million, especially where private owners are also putting in money, with have the biggest return on a dollar-for-dollar basis. They will help create the momentum that will make the big stuff, including the mall, more economically viable. The mall isn't a priority. Every storefront that needs a facelift or is vacant is ... that will create the lift that spurs growth.
Like the idea of a façade rebate. Downtown has a disjointed look right now.
One thing OB did with its architect consultant was create guidelines. No matching funds without approved plans. Though, OB's look is not as uniform as you might expect. There was a lot of latitude.