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July 11, 2019 - 8:57pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in city centre, mall, batavia, news, crime.

mall1july112019.jpg

Press release:

The Batavia Police Department is investigating damage to the City Center, which occurred between 06/29/2019 and 07/01/2019. The suspects did not gain entry to the building but did damage the skylights in the mall concourse, after getting onto the roof.

The attached photos are individuals who may have information in regards to the investigation.

Anyone with information in reference to the case or who can identify the persons in the photos may contact Detective Eric Hill at 585-345-6373 or the Batavia Police Department at 585-345-6350, the confidential tip line at 585-345-6370.

mall2july112019.jpg

mall3july112019.jpg

April 23, 2019 - 3:21pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in City Centre Mall, mall, batavia, news.

The City of Batavia is likely to reject all three bids it received for roof repair work on the City Centre Mall because they all came in over budget and Public Works Director Matt Worth thinks the city can do better by revising the bid specifications and attracting smaller contractors to the job.

The City Council will be asked to reject the bids at its next business meeting after being briefed at Monday night's conference meeting.

The work on the roof is part of the lawsuit settlement agreement with the Mall Merchants Association.

The original bid specifications including not just replacing the flat roof area, but also removing and roofing over the skylights and reroofing the entryway silos.

While it made sense at the time the bid package went out to include those features, Worth said, the heavy wind of winter storms have filled up the spring and early summer schedule of roofers in the region, especially those who do warranty work.

That left fewer smaller contractors available to bid on a project with a larger scope.

The largest contractors in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse submitted bids of $1.42 million, $1.67 million, and $2.25 million, which are all over budget.

A new bid package will be released that makes replacement of the flat roof one project, with minor repairs around the skylights and the skylights. Silos will be bid out at a later date.

November 12, 2018 - 8:40pm

Downtown Batavia's future is not the mall; it's the open areas south of Main Street, suggests Tim Tielman, a preservationist and urban planner with a track record of success in Buffalo.

Jackson Street, Jackson Square, the south side of Main Street, are where we can find what's left of Batavia's vitality, Tielman said, in a recent interview with The Batavian. The mall, he said, is the last place Batavia should invest tax dollars.

"It's a continuing drag on Batavians, their creativity, their dynamism, their energy," Tielman said. "It's this energy sucking death star in the middle of the city, and you shouldn't spend any money making it a better death star."

We interviewed Tielman in advance of his talk this Wednesday night at 7 o'clock at GO ART! for The Landmark Society of Genesee County's annual meeting.

The topic: How Batavia gets its mojo back. 

Tielman's basic thesis is that Batavia was at its apex just after the end of the 19th century when the village, soon to become a city, had a robust, densely populated urban center with hundreds of businesses.

If that downtown, which was destroyed by urban renewal, still existed Tielman said, people from Rochester and Buffalo as well as the rest of the GLOW region would flock to Batavia every week for the small city experience.

Niagara on the Lake still has it. Batavia lost it. But, with effort, Batavia can get it back, but it will literally be a ground-up process, not a top-down, consultant-driven, developer-driven effort. Batavians have to do it for themselves. But Batavians are already pointing the way if city leaders will listen.

"There's obviously an innate human need for want of a better term, congenial spaces, in towns, cities, and villages, and even in times where they've been destroyed in war or urban renewal, people find them or build them," Tielman said. "What we see in Batavia is people have happened upon Jackson Square because it's a leftover thing that no one thought about and wasn't destroyed.

"The qualities of the thing as a physical space make it a very interesting case. You enter through a narrow passageway, and suddenly, totally unexpectedly, you come to a larger space, and even though it obviously wasn't designed with gathering in mind it has everything people want as a place to gather."

Jackson Square, Jackson Street, combined with the local businesses that still populate the business district on the south side of Main Street are strengths to build on, Tielman said. Batavia can leverage the density already found there and add to it.

But Tielman isn't an advocate of trying to lure developers with tax dollars to build big projects. He believes, primarily, in a more grassroots approach. 

The "death star," he said, and continuing efforts to deal with it, are part of the "urban renewal industrial complex," as he put it, and that failed approach should be avoided.

"The solutions (of urban renewal) are all the same," Tielman said. "It's like, 'let's put out an RFP, let's get some state money instead of saying', 'well, what do the Batavians need? What are they thirsty for? What are they dying for?' What you'll find is that Batavians are like every other group of homo sapiens on the face of the Earth. If they had their druthers, they'd want something within walking distance.

"They'd want to meet friends. They'd want to do stuff close at hand and in a way that they're not killed by vehicles careening down streets at 30 or 40 miles an hour. They want their kids to be safe. They don't want to worry about them being struck by a tractor-trailer when they're riding their bikes to the candy store."

That means, of course, narrowing Ellicott Street through Downtown, perhaps adding diagonal parking to Main Street, moving auto parking from out of the center of the city, particularly in the triangle between Jackson, Main and Ellicott, which Tielman sees as the most promising area of downtown to increase density first.

Batavians will need to decide for themselves what to do, but what he suggests is that the city makes it possible for the parking lot between Jackson and Court become one big mini-city, filled with tents and temporary structures and no parking.

"The rents for a temporary store or a tent or a stand or a hotdog cart should be low enough to allow a huge segment of the population (of Batavia) to experiment," Tielman said.

Low rents remove one of the biggest impediments to people starting a business and open up the experimental possibilities so that Batavians decide for themselves what they want downtown. 

"This gives Batavia the best chance to see, whether for a very low investment on a provisional basis, (if) this will work," Tielman said. "It's not sitting back for 10 years trying to concoct a real estate investment scheme based on some RFP to lure developers and give them handouts at tremendous public risk. The idea is lower the risk and do things the way successful places have done it for millennia."

That's how it worked for Canalside, one of the projects, besides Larkin Square, Tielman has helped get started in Buffalo. With Canalside, development started with tents and temporary vendors. Now the area is revitalized, and permanent structures are being erected. It's a Buffalo success story.

The idea of starting new business and community centers with tents and temporary structures is something Tielman suggested for Batavia's future when he spoke to the Landmark Society in 2013. He suggested then the major obstacle standing in the way of Batavia's economic vitality wasn't the mall, it is massive amounts of asphalt for parking -- economically unproductive and mostly unused.

While he likes the Ellicott Street project, primarily because of the 55 apartments being added to Downtown's housing stock but also because of the involvement of Sam Savarino who has been part of successful restoration projects in Buffalo, Tielman thinks the project needs to have "connective tissue" with everything on the north side of Ellicott Street.

That means narrowing Ellicott, adding wider, more pedestrian-friendly sidewalks, and slowing down truck traffic flowing through Downtown.

Any such plan would involve the state Department of Transportation but that, he said, is just a matter of the city being willing to stand up to the DOT and paying for its own maintenance of that stretch of Route 63.

"If the Batavia's really serious about fixing (Route 63), it should do it on its own dime," Tielman said.

As part of Tielman's suggestion to concentrate growth strategies on the south side of Main Street, Tielman agrees that the farmer's market, currently at Alva and Bank, should be moved to Jackson Street.

The current location is too far from the existing local businesses, so the tendency is for people to drive to Alva, park, shop and leave. The traffic being drawn downtown isn't staying downtown.

Tielman talked about contiguity, the quality of commercial spaces adjoining each other, being necessary for convenience of users and survival of businesses.

"Connective tissue," a phrase used several times by Tielman, is critical to city centers.

"Contiguity is the lifeblood of settlements of towns and of cities," Tielman said. "If left to their own devices, places will develop like this -- and you'll see this up to World War II -- whether they were European cities, Asian cities or American cities.

"Look at a (1918) map of Batavia, contiguity was everything," Tielman added. "In a town of 18,000 people you had four-story buildings. It's crazy, you would think, but (it was built up that way)  because (of) the distance from the train station to Main Street to the courthouse. That's where you wanted to be. Everyone's walking around."

People are social animals -- Tielman made this point several times -- and Batavians, if given a chance, will support a city center with more density, Tielman said because that's human nature. What exactly that looks like, that's up to Batavians, but creating that environment will give residents a stronger sense of community, more personal connections, and shared life experience. That will foster the community's creativity and vitality, which is better than just accepting decline.

"I mean, if you look at the great John Gardner," his formative years are "when Batavia was still a place where a young John Gardner could walk up the street, buy comic books, get into trouble over there by the railroad tracks, buy something for his mother on the way home, blah, blah, blah. He could have quite a day in town and encounter characters of different stripes that can actually (be worked) into pretty rich novels of American life. You wonder whether Batavia could produce a John Gardner today."

Tim Tielman has a lot more to say about Batavia getting its mojo back (this is condensed from an hour-long conversation). Go to GO ART! at 7 p.m. Wednesday to hear more about it, ask questions, even challenge his ideas.

 

Top: Use the slider on the map to compare Batavia of 1938 with Batavia of 2016.

November 1, 2017 - 10:36am
posted by Howard B. Owens in city centre, mall, batavia.

I just stumbled on this video on YouTube --  "Hidden Vintage Mall: Batavia City Centre."

The show notes: A nice little find in the heart of Western NY, Enjoy!

The producer, Ace's Adventures, seems to take a keen interest in old malls.

He included a vintage Kmart commercial at the start, probably because of the connection with JCPenney.

October 23, 2017 - 8:31pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in mall, batavia, news, notify.

Four decades of wrangling, including five lawsuits, between the city and mall property owners is close to finally being wrapped up after a majority of property owners tonight voted to approve a settlement agreement. 

The agreement gives the city control over, and responsibility for the mall concourse. 

This settlement is the biggest step, but not the final step, in resolving this long-standing dispute. The vote for the settlement was not unanimous and if any mall property owners fail to sign the agreement it would drag out the legal process. Recalcitrant owners would have to appear before a judge and explain, show cause, for their failure to sign.

Most of the mall property owners coming out of the closed-door meeting where they voted on the agreement tonight were smiling. Robert Chiarmonte, chair of the Mall Merchant Association, said he was glad the settlement was finally approved. 

"The positive thing is that this year the maintenance fee, which will actually be called a user fee now, will stay level or somewhat level for about five years. We have our easement. We don't go to court. That's a good thing."

The protection of property owners easements was an important point to include in the settlement, Chiarmonte said.

"That was a big thing because some people were worried about being able to refinance their property or sell their property," he said.

Every property owner in the mall must now sign off on the agreement. They have 10 days to sign. If they don't, the mall merchants attorney and the city attorney will try to convince them to sign. If they still don't sign, they will have to explain their reason and provide evidence to support their reason, before a judge in Buffalo.

The vote total from tonight is not available. Each mall property owner who is in good standing on mall association fees had a vote weight by the square footage of his or her property. The City didn't have a vote on property it owns through foreclosure, but it did have a vote based on ownership of City Hall. Chiarmonte said the motion to approve the settlement would have passed, just based on the property size of the owners who did support the settlement, even without the city's vote.

City Manager Jason Molino said he expects a final resolution to be in place by April, at which time the city can take over maintenance and began work to replace the roof, repair the skylines and clean up the entryways.

"The optic improvements, the visuals, that will make the space more welcoming and open to investment," Molino said.

The city owns, through tax lien foreclosure, a handful of properties in the Mall. Once the appearance of the mall improves, those properties will be easier to sell and they will go up for auction.

Chiarmonte thinks that in itself will be a big step forward to help bring more traffic into the mall as new businesses open in those locations.

Molino agrees.

"My estimation is that when some of the improvements begin, and just some of the aesthetic improvements begin, which is not a lot, you're going to start seeing interest in those properties," Molino said. "You will see people are going have a different perspective on investing in those properties. That will be just a positive turn, just that alone."

October 23, 2017 - 8:49am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, city centre, mall merchants association, mall, news.

Statement from City Manager Jason Molino:

“The trial has been postponed today, awaiting results of the Mall Merchants vote tonight on the settlement agreement. Both parties are to report back to the court Tuesday morning with the results of the settlement vote to determine next steps with respect to the court cases.”

April 9, 2017 - 12:12pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, news, city centre, mall.

In a letter to his clients, an attorney for the Mall Merchants Association is trying to change the terms of an already finalized settlement agreement with the City in the long-standing legal fight over the past, present and future of the City Centre mall, said City Manager Jason Molino.

In a letter dated April 6 and provided to local media late Friday, Attorney Hugh C. Carlin said the settlement with the city was only tentative and that there were two significant issues still to be addressed.

He accused Molino of discussing the settlement with the media in violation of an agreement, but word of the settlement came not directly from Molino but was a matter of public record because it was on the City Council agenda the first week of February.

"The City has proceeded with every aspect of this matter in accordance with the settlement terms that were agreed upon by the City and merchants representatives in December," Molino said.

Molino had not seen a copy of the letter before it was provided to local media outlets.

The terms of the settlement were agreed to through an 18-month-long mediation process in which both sides ran up significant legal bills, Molino said.

"In that time frame, the merchants have changed attorneys several times, however after extensive discussions, both parties agreed to settlement terms which were outlined publicly in the city’s February presentation," Molino said.

In his letter, Carlin said there are two main factors of disagreement remaining between the city and the mall merchants. 

First, there is an issue related to easements for pedestrian and vehicle traffic for each property owner in the mall. The attorney also accused the city of using heavy-handed tactics to force a settlement by "hoarding" nine foreclosed properties and refusing to pay maintenance fees.

"During the negotiations between your representatives and the City, the issue of individual owners' rights to access their properties was not discussed," Carlin wrote. "In fact, the only restrictions on City property that were addressed related to the present contractual obligations of the City to maintain specific numbers of parking spots.

"The City now insists that, as part of any settlement, the easements be terminated," Carlin added. "The termination of the easements raises significant issues concerning your title. If the easements were terminated, your ability to refinance or transfer your parcel in the future would likely be jeopardized."

This misrepresents that facts, Molino said.

"It’s important to note that the first term agreed upon was the termination of all prior agreements, making them null and void," Molino said. "By the nature of terminating these agreements, all covenants, easements, and restrictions placed on real property associated with those agreements would be terminated as well.

"This included the concourse and city parking lots. For the merchants' attorneys to claim this issue was never discussed is simply not true as a third-party mediator, merchants' representatives and merchants' attorneys themselves all reviewed and approved the terms prior to an agreement being reached."

Carlin now says he won't support an agreement that changes the terms of easements. 

"The City's inexplicable and irrational proposal comes at a cost to the Merchant Association," Carlin wrote. "The City will give the inferior and unacceptable easement only in 'exchange' for a cost-sharing arrangement for roof repairs should the sum of those repairs exceed $650,000. As you may recall, one of the primary reasons for the merchants negotiating team reaching an agreement with regard to the settlement framework was the City's assumption of all costs relating to the roof replacement without any cap on costs."

As for the foreclosed properties, Molino said Carlin was also informed on state law regarding how the city is obligated to handle those properties.

"The merchants' attorney has been repeatedly advised that upon foreclosure of real property taxes under the Real Property Tax Law all prior rights, interests and restrictions of record are terminated in the parcel," Molino said. "Hence, under the RPTL the City has no legal obligation to pay the past or future maintenance fees on foreclosed parcels under the historic mall agreements.

"To suggest otherwise evidences a serious lack of understanding of municipal law practice and procedure. However, if the settlement agreement is executed and the concourse user fee law adopted, the City would pay future user fees on foreclosed parcels."

Molino said it is normally against city policy to discuss ongoing litigation in public, but given the nature of the misstatements by Carlin to his clients, he wanted to clarify matters.

"Unfortunately, it appears from this letter that the merchants' attorney is attempting to reverse, back down or change the agreed upon settlement terms between the City and Merchants Association," Molino said. "While this is concerning on many levels, most concerning is the merchants' attorney is preventing the City and Merchant Association settlement terms from being executed, stopping the City from moving forward with the needed capital improvements to the concourse.

"Furthermore, after having expended close to $90,000 in legal fees over the last year (over $200,000 since 2009) without a signed settlement agreement, the letter from merchants' attorney appears to be an unfortunate attempt to deflect attention and blame. Sadly, the significant expenditures forced by the merchants' attorney suit and handling have drained substantial funds from the group's budget, and away from repairs and improvements of the mall."

Despite the disagreements, both Molino and Carlin said they are hopeful the 2008 lawsuit filed by the merchants can be settled.

"We are obviously disheartened by the turn of events in this case, but will persist in efforts to remain hopeful that cooler heads will reach a settlement consistent with the terms negotiated and agreed to in December and presented to you in February," Carlin wrote. 

Molino: "Regardless of this setback, the City remains hopeful that despite the merchants' attorney's obstructions to the settlement process, the original terms negotiated in good faith between the City and Merchants Association will be executed in the near future, and the mall can be improved, adding value to the merchants' properties and open to the door to future revitalization in the City’s Downtown."

March 15, 2017 - 3:19pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in city centre, City Centre Mall Association, mall, batavia, news.

City officials are wondering what's up with the settlement they reached with attorneys for the City Centre Mall Merchants Association. They thought the matter would be resolved by now, but apparently, the attorneys for the merchants haven't even shown the membership the final draft of the settlement agreement.

While City Manager Jason Molino said he has no reason to believe the settlement won't eventually be presented to the merchants and the settlement will be approved, the delay just means the city can't work on structural deficiencies in the concourse.  

"I would like to think that there is nothing that suggests the deal is going to fall apart," Molino said. "The issue is how do we get to the finishing line and get to the finishing line as expeditiously as possible, which is in the best interest of everyone in the community, the best interest of the property owners in here in the mall, and then we can start to talk about what we can do to trigger new growth and new investment in this concourse and in this mall. That's the most important thing to keep our eye on."

Mall Manager Madeline Bialkowski, who scheduled her retirement for April 1 to coincide with the settlement of the mall merchant's lawsuit being in place, said that merchants are waiting for a final draft of the settlement agreement from the attorneys.

Hugh Carlin is the attorney representing the City Centre Mall Merchants Association. 

Yesterday, we asked Carlin when the merchants would approve the settlement.

"I can't say yet," Carlin said. "Hopefully in the near future. There are a few more details we're working on."

Asked what those details might be since his side had already agreed to a settlement, Carlin said, "I can't comment." Pushed for clarification, he repeated, "I can't comment."

According to documents obtained by The Batavian through a Freedom of Information Law request, the merchants have paid their attorneys $212,056 since starting the litigation against the city in 2009.

In February of 2015, The Batavian reported that the association had spent $103,317 on the lawsuit. The tab has gone up another $108,738 according to documents obtained through the FOIL request.

The city, through the same period, has spent $168,070 on attorney fees, with $63,872 being added since February 2015.

"The city has done everything it can prior to the lawsuit (to reach an agreement), during the lawsuit and now, having entered into terms we've agreed to to end the lawsuit in a way that is expedient and in the best interest of everyone," Molino said. "Now, we're still having challenges with the mall's legal counsel."

The lack of an agreement is delaying Bialkowski's retirement. She's agreed to stay on until the settlement is finalized, but she and her friends are still going ahead with a retirement party at Ken's Pits on March 30 because she anticipates she will be retired not long after that, she said.

The association and the city had a long-simmering dispute over who is responsible for repair and maintenance of the mall concourse. According to a 1987 settlement, the merchants' association was supposed to take control of the city-owned concourse on April 1, 2000.

The settlement agreement the city and the attorneys for merchants agreed to during the first week of February puts the burden back on the city to repair and maintain the concourse. That's a task Molino said the city is eager to take on because that's the only way all of the necessary repairs will take place so the mall becomes once again a viable business investment.

The City Council approved the settlement Feb. 27.  Each owner of properties in the mall must individually sign off on the agreement or submit a motion to the court to show cause for not agreeing to the settlement.

The city is ready to get started, he said, as soon as the merchants approve the agreement.

"The city is in position and we're ready to move," Molino said. "We're ready to take this 17-acre area and take on the responsibility to move it into a better position so that in the future it triggers investment."

There's a lot of work to be done but that doesn't apparently include mitigating mold.

Contrary to reports in other media outlets, there is no evidence of mold in the mall, Molino said.  

The speculation for mold in the mall apparently comes from an interview Ron Viele, a local contractor, gave to a reporter. We placed calls yesterday afternoon and early this afternoon seeking clarification but Viele has not returned our calls.

We did speak to Paul Viele, Ron's son and a member of the City Council. He said he didn't participate in the interview with his father but did say "it's possible" there is mold in the mall, especially given the leaks and moisture in the mall.

He said the city should hire a professional to evaluate whether there is mold.

"We don't do that kind of work," Viele said. "We're contractors."

Until the merchants' attorneys move forward with the settlement, it would be up to the mall association to hire a contractor to deal with any potential mold, Molino said.

However, he said, as part of the settlement process, a third-party consultant was brought in to evaluate the mall concourse. Molino said he can't release that report, even as part of a FOIL request, because it's part of the technically ongoing litigation, but that consultant found no evidence of mold, he said.

As for whether it's possible, of course, it's possible, Molino said. It's also possible, he said, that if you have forced-air heating in your home that you have mold in your home. In fact, if you haven't had your ducts cleaned in a long time, it's likely. That doesn't mean the mold is harmful. It depends on the type of mold and a person's sensitivity to it.  It would take a professional, not just somebody looking up at the ceiling, to determine if mold is present. (Here's what the CDC says about the health risks of mold.)

January 13, 2015 - 6:32pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, downtown, mall, city centre, genesee country mall.

There was a degree of frustration on all sides in council chambers Monday night over the long-simmering dispute over the state of the downtown mall after a resident raised the issue during public comments.

Some council members initially joined in the call of Richard Richmond to have the state's comptroller's office audit the city's legal fees associated with the city's dispute and the current lawsuit with the Mall Merchants Association.

Molino noted, however, that the city was audited last year and no irregularities related to legal bills were found.

He also asked what the goal of such an audit would be. The legal fees are public record and have been released before.

Richmond said he would like to see an itemized list of attorney fees for the mall, even suggesting audio go back six years to check for any inadvertent double billing.

The city's financial statements are scrutinized every year by an independent accountant, Molino told the council, and "they report any fraud or inconsistencies."

There have been no such reports.

Last year, resident John Roach issued a public records request and received documents showing the city's legal fees related to mall litigation, but some material was redacted if it could reveal information covered by attorney-client privilege. 

An audit, Molino suggested, would not necessarily uncover the kind of information perhaps some think it might.

"The comptroller is not going to provide you with guidance on what you pay for what services," Molino said. "They're not going to come in and tell you you're paying too much for police services, you're paying too much for fire services or you're paying too much for this."

Council members such as John Deleo expressed concern about how much was being spent on mall litigation and compared the years-long conflict with the mall association to a messy divorce that has gone on too long.

More than just the legal fees, perhaps, Deleo said, "people are concerned about the mall and the 57 buckets and how long does this divorce will go on."

After the meeting, Molino hinted at his own frustration with five or six years of disputes over the mall, but also expressed hope that a once-and-for-all solution can be reached during legal negotiations.

The condition of the mall and the disputes over the mall create a perception problem, Molino said, that could hold back redevelopment and brownfield development.

"It does not help the long-term success of the city nor the long-term success of the businesses and the redevelopment potential downtown, so, yes, it does hurt," Molino said. "It hurts everybody. I think everybody's business involved is going to benefit when it's resolved, and the city as a whole, and the community, will be able to get through this, and I hope it's a milestone that we can get past and say we were able to get past that hurdle."

There is an openness, Molino believes, to finding a solution to the disputes that led to the lawsuit, the involves negotiation and not further litigation.

"I think both parties want to resolve this issue and it's just a matter of coming together to find common ground that is going to meet everybody's needs," Molino said.

January 25, 2010 - 9:38am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, mall, city centre.

City Fire is being dispatched to 1 City Centre, section 8A, to investigate the odor of wires burning.

UPDATE 10:31 a.m.: Engine 12 went back in service a few minutes ago.

September 1, 2009 - 12:27pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, mall.

The City Centre Mall Association thinks the city is responsible for replacing the mall's roof, repairing skylights and the silo entrances.

And since the city has resisted spending money on the mall, the association is asking the courts to come to its rescue.

In a lawsuit filed last month, the association also asks that the city be required to repair an uneven concourse floor, drop ceilings and HVAC, plus award $95,000 to the merchants and add "as close as 1,1,40 parking spaces as possible" to make up for spaces lost from construction of City Hall, a restaurant and two banks.

WBTA reports:

Dr. Mitchel Chess, president of the Mall Association, said he was hesitant to comment because the associations’ lawyers received the city’s initial response to the suit this morning.

City Manager Jason Molino confirmed the city had been served with the suit. He said the city’s attorney will handle the matter in house. He said the action by the mall association "had been expected."

This is at least the third lawsuit that the mall association has filed against the city since the Genesee Country Mall opened 30 years ago.

April 4, 2009 - 5:18pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, mall, urban renewal.

I wish I could find David J. Gordon, if he's still alive, and interview him. On video would be especially good. I wonder if he would squirm at all?

Gordon is the City of Batavia's former Director or Urban Renewal.  If there is one single person responsible for tearing down half of downtown Batavia and building that brutal mall, it is Gordon.

We could give Gordon his due and excuse his enthusiasm for destruction and reconstruction to youthful folly and the trends of the time. Or could we see him as a locus for change that not many Batavian's wanted (it's very hard to find any long-time residents who say they support (or should I say, "admit" that they supported) the city's decision at the time).

C.M. Barons, loyal reader and commentor on The Batavian, interviewed Gordon in 1973. He e-mailed me a copy of the article.

Reading the Q&A is nothing less than infuriating.

Gordon started his young adult life pursuing study in social sciences and then flirted with becoming a priest, but wound up in Washington, D.C. where he got involved in urban renewal, a particularly flatulent excess of federal largess aimed at destroying city blocks and replacing them with anything, anything at all.

Urban renewal was all the rage in the 1960s and 1970s.

Wikipedia:

Urban renewal is extremely controversial, and typically involves the destruction of businesses, the relocation of people, and the use of eminent domain as a legal instrument to reclaim private property for city-initiated development projects.

In the second half of the 20th century, renewal often resulted in the creation of urban sprawl and vast areas of cities being demolished ... 

Urban renewal's effect on actual revitalization is a subject of intense debate. It is seen by proponents as an economic engine, and by opponents as a regressive mechanism for enriching the wealthy at the expense of taxpayers and the poor. It carries a high cost to existing communities, and in many cases resulted in the destruction of vibrant—if run-down —neighborhoods.

If you're a fan of The Kinks, you might be familiar with the 1971 album Muswell Hillbillies, which was Ray Davies scathing and often witty polemic against urban renewal. Long before I came to Batavia, it was one of my favorite LPs. Now it often strikes me as especially poignant.

I got a letter this morning with serious news that's gone and ruined my day,
The borough surveyor's used compulsory purchase to acquire my domain,
They're gonna pull up the floors, they're gonna knock down the walls,
They're gonna dig up the drains.

Here come the people in grey they're gonna take me away to lord knows where,
But I'm so unprepared I got no time to pack and I got nothing to wear,
Here come the people in grey,
To take me away.

Gordon was very much one of those people in grey, judging from the picture with Barons' article and his attitude toward the city that was nothing more than another notch on his resume.

At the heart of the article is Gordon's complete lack of respect for the small business owner. Without that respect, it is easy to see why he had no qualms about dislocating businesses that had operated in the same locations for decades.

What I think personally and I was brought up in a small business man's type home -- I'm talking experience not theory, is that unfortunately business has become that which is owned by bigger and bigger conglomerates. The day of the small business, I'm sorry to say, has become more and more a less intricate part of the American scene. It's another one of the changing aspects, one of the reasons, and there are many, that in the old days when a man ran a business he whole family went in there and helped him. His wife went in there and more important -- his kid. But today his kid wants to go to college and rightly so. And he wants the 35 or 40 hour work week with fringe benefits and vacations; he doesn't want to work all hours of the day as he did before. The small business can't compete (for labor) with the fringe benefits offered by the larger companies.

As a Brit like Ray Davies might say, "What rubbish."

I, too, grew up in a "small business man's type home" and my decision not to become a baker had nothing to do with an unwillingness to work hard and put in long hours, or a desire to seek fringe benefits. I simply preferred to pursue a life involving words and thought (I set out to be a writer) rather than dough and icing.  It's impossible to pigeon hole the mass of humanity as nothing but 40-hour-week seekers. Some people have the entrepreneurial drive and some don't, and we need communities that meet the needs of both types of people.  Gordon's statement strikes me as rather myopic.

There are a number of family owned businesses in Genesee County, many of them in their second and third generations of ownership.  The family-owned business never went out of style.  There have always been people more interested in working for a family owned business rather than a conglomerate, fringe benefits or not.  There's more to a good work life than an extra week of vacation. Gordon's assertions were based neither on experience nor theory, but merely wishful thinking.

Prophetically, with a bit of wisdom Gordon may not have realized he possessed, he did note how important a strong downtown is to a vibrant community.

Remember this is a big tax producing basis for the city -- the business district. If the business district goes to hell, the economics of this town go to hell.

I shared Barons' article with Batavia loyalist Bill Kauffman, who's anti-urban renewal writing is known the nation over. Bill's response: "The arrogant bastards who knocked down Old Batavia ought to have been tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail back to whatever unplace they came from."

Fortunately, whatever damage the bastards who tore down Old Batavia did to the business community, it is receding ever more into history as the local business community recovers. It didn't really take another government program, either, to turn things around. It is a combination of community effort and free enterprise, good small-town American values. It is a credit to the local merchants (which includes businesses in the mall) and property owners who have stuck with downtown and formed the Business Improvement District.  The BID has made great strides in revitalizing downtown, and the work continues.  Downtown Batavia's success is important for the entire community (at least Gordon got that much right). It sets the tone and the pace for the rest of the county.  The folly of David J. Gordon aside, there is no reason Downtown can't thrive for decades to come.

January 7, 2009 - 12:49pm
posted by Philip Anselmo in batavia, downtown, mall.

It's up! The sign that caused quite a stir over the summer has been installed out front of the Batavia City Centre. Isn't it pretty—and it only cost us... what was it... oh, right around $20,000. (Personally, I say for $20,000, we should have bought a hatchback, mounted a megaphone to the roof, and hired a driver to circle the city continuously intoning: 'Come to the mall. Come to the mall. Please.' But the sign is nice, too.)

That big, blank, white face just begs the question: What should be the first message? This sign is supposed to boost business for the shops inside the mall. So what message would get you inside the mall to spend your hard-earned cash?

While we're on the topic of mall signs... Has anyone caught a glimpse of the old sign lately? That's somewhat of a trick question, because if you're heading east on Main Street, you have to see through—or around—the tree that all but blocks the view of the sign from that direction. No matter. Even if you saw that side of the sign, it wouldn't make much sense. Intended to advertise the movies now showing at the cinema in the mall, it currently reads: 'BET' for the first film and 'ARLE' for the second. Any guesses?

So what is the mall telling people with these two signs? The new one seems to say: 'Hey, come buy our stuff. We're fresh and lively, and we believe in the majesty of British orthography.' But the old one tells us: 'We're rusting. Honest to God: we're rusting.'

I mean, come on: 'BET' and 'ARLE'. Well, at least when spring comes, the leaves will blot out the reference to the Genesee Country Mall.

December 6, 2008 - 2:08am
posted by Brian Hillabush in batavia, photo, mall, Christmas.

 

For more photos from Christmas in the city, look here.

 

November 25, 2008 - 1:53pm
posted by Timothy Paine in batavia, mall, Tim Paine.

           Hopefully last night settles the issue of me being removed from the MOC. A thinly veiled attempt to remove me was made at last nights Council meeting. Frank Ferrando tried to come up with several different scenarios that could be used to kick someone off a committee. My favorite was being likened to a "community window decorator that hates windows". In the end after all of Frank, Bob and Bill's arguments for removal, intelligent reason prevailed. Thanks to Charlie, Cathy and Marianne it will remain that you can't throw someone off because they don't agree with you. Bob Bialkowski and Bill Cox tried to orchestrate a scheme that would have me removed. Bob asked Frank to implement this sorry attempt to try and hide him as the ring leader. Anyone present at the last Council meeting was a witness to Bob setting this in motion. Through out our campaign against each other a year ago and even until now I've never bad-mouthed Bob. At some point enough is enough. If no one has told you yet, you won Bob! I guess my biggest suprise is Bill. I worked along side Bill a lot last year and even helped him with his campaign. At the time I took him for an intelligent guy. I also thought Frank was above being used in such a way. We do live and learn.

         A couple of weeks ago Joanne Beck ran an article in The Daily News about this whole Mall thing. A week ago I met with Philip and discussed the same issue. We spoke for over an hour and he asked me to go ahead and submit my own article. I figured I'd wait till after last weeks MOC meeting and see how things went last night. I thought I would give you the e-mail I submitted to Joanne and let you all decide your own views. She asked me four questions, these were my answers:

         1.Q; Why did you start recording the meetings? I started recording meetings when I felt the minutes seemed inaccurate. I found things were being glossed over or omitted. When I would bring up these problems during the approval of the minutes it became apparent that these things were omitted for a reason. Dr. Chess would propose to remove the things before and after the missing statements instead of inserting what was really said. All I was asking for was the truth. When a City Council member would say something that isn't allowed due to ongoing negotiations I felt it should be included. Fortunately, they voted to close the meetings. Council members attending meetings should be less frequent now permitting a much less likely chance a verbal mistake can jeopardize Jason's ongoing negotiations.

         2.)Q; Did it involve a disability, and are you willing to elaborate at all?   As far as my disability, that's now a non-issue. They all voted against me recording meetings. Madeline is the only one who is allowed to record now. All I wanted was to have access to the recording. Dr. Chess asked Jason if they kept recordings of Council meetings and he said they did. The board agreed to keep recordings for 60 days and that I could review them at Madeline's office if I needed to. All I wanted was the
ability to check the minutes if I felt something was wrong, and they granted me that. Had they not let me have access to any type of recording, I would have pursued the disability case against them. Since I have access, all is fine. However, if I'm ever denied access or the recording is "lost" then I will have to get my lawyer involved as well as contact the media.

         3.)Q; Why do you think the Board wants you off the MOC?  The reason they want me off the board is unknown to me. My job is to be on the side of the taxpayer. That's a conflict of what they want. I don't know what past city-appointed members did, and I don't really care. I know what my position is:  it's to keep as much of the people of Batavia's money where they want or  don't want it to go. The people have made it clear to me, (very, very clear to me) that they don't want one more dime spent on the Mall. I've told them that's not going to happen. Whether it's an expensive roof, selling it for a dollar, or ten years worth of tax concessions, it's going to cost us something. The board has told me they want all three. I've told everybody that what ever the cost is, I feel the best thing is to make sure we sever all ties between the City and the Mall. Let's make sure this deal is the last deal. Everybody has agreed with me on that point. The public WILL NOT STAND  for the MOC getting all three requests. My job is to give the MOC as little as possible. Again, my job is to give the Mall as little as possible. I'm standing my ground. I guess we know why they want me gone.

         4.)Q; Do you feel you've been "antagonistic" in any way?  Am I being antagonistic? I'm sure they feel that way. I know they didn't like it when I wrote my opinion in the paper several months back. In the next meeting I was told I was now viewed as a "Hostile" and would be treated as such. I'm fine with that. They have their objective and I have mine. After that article in the paper, we as a board all agreed to keep everything at the meetings and not in the paper. I have kept my word on that. I think they feel I'm being antagonistic because I want the truth all the time, not just when it suits some of them. Whenever Dr. Chess has been less than honest, I point it out. When Bill Cox was caught in a contradiction it upset both of them. Bob Bialkowski must still think we're running against each other. To this day, he likes to try and mess with me when he can. I don't dislike anyone on the board. We're all there for a reason, but not for the same outcome. When opposing views are present there is no way it's all going to be lovey-dovey. I understand that, and that's why I sit there as the lone person on the side of the City taxpayers. I'm fine with that. Whether it's a meeting that's 6 against one, or ten against one, it's no problem for me. Apparently they feel the need to have a "yes man" there too. It's too bad for them that I'm not one. I wonder how Dr. Chess would do in my shoes? I think the answer is obvious, he doesn't like being on a team against one opponent. Wow, how would he handle being in my position?
 

November 14, 2008 - 2:17pm
posted by Daniel Jones in batavia, mall, Fiasco.

Well folks, we have another Mall fiasco (they just don't stop), the Mall Maiteniance Association (MMA) is creating massive shenangins over next to nothing again.  This time though, the basis of their decision is laughable.  They want to remove the City's representative, Mr. Tim Paine from the committee for being "disruptive" and "questioning the integrity of the minutes".  Excuse me while I nearly fall of my chair laughing, is this serious? 

This all must be a major joke that the MMA is playing on us via the media, I mean honestly, normally you have to have an actually legitamte reason to remove someone from a committee, such as assault or not showing up to meetings.  Truly they have creativity than this.

This action is both funny and an incredibly frightening misuse of power on behalf of Dr. Mitchell Chess, who has shown his intentions by attemtping to circumvent Jason Molino, the City Manager, in the past.   He now wants to have Tim Paine removed from the committee because he doesn't agree with them and wants accurate minutes, how on earth is this so terrible?  If the MMA had nothing to hide, then they would have no objection to the tape recordings of their meetings and if they really cared about City input, they wouldn't object to the representative from the commmittee, well, giving input. 

Mr. Paine is not the representative on behalf of those in power at the MMA, he is the City's representative, he exists in that capacity to give the input of the people, not the powerful.  He is also there to make sure that the MMA is telling the truth when it comes to its matters that involve the city.  Perhaps the MMA isn't being totally forthcoming?

The real question, to me at least, is this, what is the MMA hiding?  I have much respect for Dr. Chess, its chairman, because of his education and his running a great service for the community, but doesn't this make you wonder what exactly is really going on?  Could this be why he tried to enlist the city council to help him bypass negiotiating with Jason Molino?

Perhaps the MMA could attempt to remove him for a more credible reason, such as the color of his shirt or the brand of sneakers he wears.  I realize that no one is perfect and I don't want to sound like I'm questioning anyone's character....but I have to wonder if this group is living in the same world that the rest of us are.

November 6, 2008 - 1:21pm
posted by Philip Anselmo in Daily News, city council, mall.

Batavia's Mall Merchants Association has requested the city to remove its appointed liaison to the group, according to the Daily News. A letter sent to City Council President Charlie Mallow asking for the dismissal of liaison Tim Paine cites Paine's "veiled use of a tape recorder during meetings, questioning the integrity of meeting minutes and being disruptive" among its list of reasons why Paine should go.

Mallow told reporter Joanne Beck that members of public committees "have the right to rexpress themselves and argue their points." Mallow added that Paine has done nothing to warrant his removal from the Mall Operating Committee and Association.

Association President Mitchell Chess said of Paine:

"He's not serving the role as intermediary (between the city and merchants). The relationship has become unworkable. He doesn't trust what we're saying and we don't trust him. It's not a good mix. We want someone to explain their point of view and not be antagonistic."

Tim Paine is a frequent contributor to The Batavian, and we've heard him express himself on many different city issues—never in any way that's been outright "antagonistic"—and it's pretty obvious that he takes an interest in the goings-on at the level of city government. If anything, we would have to say that he is an active citizen and be thankful for that in the face of so much general apathy on the part of the greater public.

Whether Paine is being "disruptive" and frustrating meetings of the mall association because of trust issues, we can't say. Chess went as far as to say that Paine is "looking for ways to undermine" the mall merchants. That sounds like a pretty heavy charge. But why would Paine even be in a situation to undermine the merchants? Who is he undermining the merchants to? Has the relationship between the city and the mall reached a point where it is perhaps too involved? Let's phrase this in another way: How does an association between the mall merchants and the city—to the point that paid staff spend time at such meetings—benefit the residents, a.k.a. taxpayers, of the city of Batavia?

The purpose of the Neighborhood Improvement Committee is pretty obvious. The Board of Assessment Review serves a pretty clear function.

One thing is clear: the city and the mall merchants just don't get along. Headlines pitting one against the other were splashed across the front page of the Daily several times this summer. Whatever the purpose may have been for a Mall Operating Committee and Association, it's obvious that it has been frustrated.

The Web site for the city of Batavia says this of the association: "The Mall Operating Committee is made up of mall owners and City staff and is responsible for overseeing the operation and maintenance of the mall."

That sounds simple enough. So why so much drama?


In other news, nothing significant happened at the town of Batavia budget hearing and the Genese County elections crew had no need of the emergency paper ballots, as all the machines remained in good working order throughout the day Tuesday.

And.... that's about it.

We encourage you to pick up a copy of the Daily News at your local newsstand. Or, better yet, subscribe at BataviaNews.com.

August 26, 2008 - 7:44am
posted by Philip Anselmo in crime, wbta, city council, mall.

WBTA's Dan Fischer picked up some great audio of last night's concluding debate about the mall sign—which was approved for purchase by a vote of 6-2. He has posted the views of two City Council members who held opposing views on the mall: Rosemary Christian and Charlie Mallow.

In other news, the former highway superintendent of the Erie County town of Marilla, David Pierce, told a judge yesterday that "alcoholism and greed" made him break the law. Pierce was sentenced to seven months in jail for using town employees to work on his property, doing such things as building a fishing and swimming pond.

August 25, 2008 - 9:04pm
posted by Philip Anselmo in city council, mall.

After weeks of asserting that he would not recuse himself from a City Council vote to purchase a sign for the mall, Councilman Bob Bialkowski abstained when it came his turn tonight, doing what everyone had been saying was the right thing to do and nullifying any purpose to convene the city's ethics board. So ends that debate.

That vote, by the way, won with a clear majority, and the city will purchase a new sign advertising the mall, not to exceed $20,000. Council members Charlie Mallow and Marianne Clattenburg voted against the purchase.

"I'm really frustrated with this whole situation," said Clattenburg. "I'm ambivalent on the sign. I was for it when we voted for the budget, but I don't know now that this has become so hostile."

After the vote, Bialkowski said that in the end he abstained so as not to hold up procedure.

"Everything else aside," said Councilman Frank Ferrando, "We took the sign down. We should put it back up."

If I may be allowed a moment to digress... Sometimes, folks, things just work out. Even in such municipal farces as these, what we all know ought to happen happens despite the rancor, despite the bitter clash of personalities and despite the obstinacy of otherwise good people who inexplicably act contrary to common sense. God bless America.


Council was also supposed to appoint a five member board of ethcis, but that was postponed owing to the efforts of Rosemary Christian who said she "didn't even know" the city was "looking for an ethics committee."

"My concern," said Councilman Tim Buckley, "is that nobody here can explain to me what exactly the ethcis board does. It might be spelled out, but there has been no action. I'd like to spend some more time on this and make sure it's done right. I'd like to define their job a little more, instead of just saying that these are members of a board that do nothing."

Council members Mallow and Clattenburg sounded the sole votes against postponing the appointments. Clattenburg said that such a move "means we're rejecting these members."

August 25, 2008 - 3:51pm
posted by Philip Anselmo in city manager, mall.

City Manager Jason Molino had a few words for the mall merchants in an article by Joanne Beck that appeared on the cover of the Daily News Saturday. Beck starts the article with a lengthy quote from Mitchell Chess, president of the Mall Merchants Association.

What Chess has to say can be boiled down to a single sentiment: "The situation needs to be resolved. Since we can't have those type of negotiations to resolve this amicably, we have to take the city to court." Chess has said this before: in news articles, in a letter to the editor, and here on The Batavian. In other words, this isn't really news.

What it is, instead, is a springboard, fashioned by Beck to allow Jason Molino a high dive into the foray—and that he does, with no lack of bravado.

But first a little background supplied by Beck: Following a somewhat productive meeting of the city and mall merchants in April, the relationship between the two sides quickly soured, and Molino blames it on the merchants, who in turn, blame the city.

Molino says the city was supposed to have six months to "gather information" related—I presume, as this "information" is never qualified outright—to a request by the merchants for repairs to the mall and replacement of the sign.

Not only has the merchants group not allowed the time necessary to do that, but it has fueled the matter by making negotiations public, he said.

...

It all became a "soap opera" that has done nothing to rectify the situation, he said. He stressed the importance for merchants to perhaps not to be so vocal.

"If you [the mall merchants?] continue with the unprofessionalism and badgering ... it's not going to move forward," [said Molino]. "We had identified the issues to be discussed, and we had a timeframe. This is very simple. If we want to resolve this issue, we can. If not, that's up to you. I will not engage in this public hysteria."

Fine bit of euphemism there: "the importance for merchants to perhaps not be so vocal." I like that. That's nice. A lot better than the more direct route: "Keep yer mouths shut!"

The saga continues tonight at 7:00pm at City Hall, when the Council will vote on whether to replace the mall sign, among other matters. I'll be there. Will you?

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