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July 29, 2022 - 9:46am

Moving forward? Yes, say city leaders, a step at a time as funding allows

posted by Joanne Beck in news, batavia, city centre, mall, notify.

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Editor's note: This is a continuation of a series about what's happening in the city of Batavia.

So to recap: city officials have begun to replace the mall concourse roof and pursue a new design for the four silos, or entryways, and are creating a wish list for future projects.

While nearly a million dollars have been invested in the roof, the naysayers are bemoaning such wasteful spending. The question of why not tear it down has been answered — more than once — which means to shift perspective from giving up to leaning in and finding affordable options for making the concourse more attractive, appealing, and effective for drawing in customers, city leaders say.

One action item that’s free and can be useful is just what some city officials have been doing: brainstorming.

Batavia Development Corporation’s new director, Tammy Hathaway, said she’d first like to “trip right into a giant pot of money” for the ideas she could come up with for the mall. So far, though, there have been conversations with city management and real estate agents.

“I don’t think any one of us doesn’t have it as our own personal priority,” she said during a recent group interview with city officials and The Batavian. “You know, working in the city of Batavia, actually working in this building, we work here, so we see it every day. And so it’s definitely something we think about constantly.”

Money — or the lack thereof — sort of tables some brainstorming ideas because any structural or aesthetic changes will take money to happen. City Manager Rachael Tabelski is hoping that perhaps the Restore NY grant, overseen by Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office, might consider the mall concourse for funding.

“So we’re trying to determine whether the concourse would be eligible because it serves so many businesses for those grant funds, so that’s kind of in process now,” she said. “We’re looking to work with Empire State Development to see if we’re eligible.”

Has there been any progress with filling the former JC Penney building?

Hathaway said that the property has “gotten a lot of traction out there in the world,” and Genesee County Economic Development Center has been involved by talking to various companies with possible interest, she said. The property is owned by a developer in California and is being marketed by a real estate company in Rochester.

As for using the concourse, any interested organization or business can fill out an application to rent the space for $25 and put on a special event, Tabelski said.

“We hope that there's excitement growing in Batavia; there was the development project for the groundbreaking at the YMCA Healthy Living campus and Savarino (Ellicott Station project),” she said. “Because a lot of times those types of developments are seeing companies and developers, and it piques their interest to come to have a look at what the city has to offer, and it's certainly a very large space and a very prominent location in the city.”

A big part of the aesthetic shift will be with the silo work, Public Works Director Brett Frank said.

“That'll make it more inviting to have people come in,” he said. “And exterior renovations will make a huge difference. You know, eventually as funds are made available, redoing flooring, painting, anything like that. it will make a huge impact as well. It's just going to take a lot of sweat equity.”

Hathaway believes that once Theater 56 is fully built, and the “manicuring” of different pieces within the mall, it will be a similar experience to finally seeing City Hall take shape at the west end of the former Genesee Country Mall.

“I think we all felt a little bit of relief when we saw City Hall built at the end of it, like there’s something new,” she said.

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What about those oddly shaped, carpet-covered pieces of — are they furniture? — throughout the concourse; will they be removed or altered?

“That's a good question; that's probably a bridge we'd have to cross when we get there,” Frank said. “But that's not something that necessarily can't be upcycled.”

Tabelski and Frank agreed that the entire property would probably lend well to mixed-use, with perhaps a second floor for apartments, the current businesses of retail and medical services, and, ideally another restaurant or coffee shop, more retail and possibly bringing the outdoor Farmers Market indoors.

“I think it's more successful as a mixed-use that definitely has medical and insurance as mainstays of the owners, and I do think there's still retail that's going to be necessary there to support the employees who work at these medical facilities, and who are at the theater as well,” Tabelski said.

“So to me, I think it's more attractive if there's a mix of uses going on at the center,” she said.

Water and Wastewater Superintendent Michael Ficarella is looking for “an overall revitalization, or modernization” of the downtown space.

“And we can have events that benefit the community,” he said. “I think we're going to do our best to maximize what we have here in existence, and take what was left from the past and make it usable for our future.”

Top file photo from 2020: renderings of City Centre mall entryways and concourse that were considered a couple of years ago. Courtesy of LaBella Associates and the City of Batavia. 2021 file photo of City Centre with a decorative bucket in March and fixed furniture pieces behind it. Photo by Howard Owens.

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