CLARENCE, N.Y. - In this era of online shopping, the '70s-style Eastern Hills Mall needs a plan for survival.
Enter: the "Lifestyle Center."
A spokesperson for the mall's owner, New Jersey-based Mountain Development Corporation, confirmed on Tuesday that the company has entered early discussions with real estate firm Uniland Development about a major redevelopment plan for the Eastern Hills Mall.
The spokesperson could not divulge specific plans, but talk of a lifestyle center has reverberated throughout the Northtowns for a few years now. Elected leaders in the Town of Clarence also plan to implement zoning requirements on the site that would facilitate an open-air concept with retail and residential space.
Nathan Mroz, who opened BFLO Gallery and Gift Shop at Eastern Hills three years ago, has been one of the most vocal advocates for a lifestyle center.
He's optimistic that the mixed-use concept would thrive at Eastern Hills, particularly because it's located on a busy Transit Road corridor in close proximity to some of the region's most wealthy residents. There are no lifestyle centers in Western New York, but they do exist as close as Cleveland and Southern Ontario.
"Buffalo and Western New York, it's been a bit behind the eight ball in terms of getting a lifestyle center," Mroz said. "But there's no reason it couldn't work."
These redevelopment ideas are still in the very early stages, though. A spokesperson for Mountain Development stressed that the talks are preliminary.
A Uniland spokesperson declined comment.
It's unclear how much a redevelopment would cost if Uniland and Mountain Development invested together, but Town of Clarence Supervisor Patrick Casilio estimated they would need at least $200 million at the very start.
Casilio is a proponent of the lifestyle center idea, simply because he feels it may be the only way for the town's most valuable property to reinvent itself.
"It makes no sense that the mall is in the state that it is now," Casilio said. "When it first opened up, you couldn't even find a parking space at the mall."
The mall doesn't have widespread vacancies, but it has lost major stores like Dave & Buster's and Macy's recently.
If the redevelopment project moves forward, the mall site would turn into a "city-center" of sorts with sidewalks, landscaping and plazas. The Town of Clarence already adopted a new zoning code that allows for a mixed-use "overlay district," but it would still need to specifically rezone the Eastern Hills property for any redevelopment to occur.
Casilio said the town's zoning codes will ensure that the Eastern Hills Mall site won't turn into a mega-sized atrocity.
"It won't become a flea market, it's not going become a car dealership, it's not going to allow big box stores," he said, adding that existing anchor stores can still remain. "It will not become a big Walmart plaza. It'll become a mixed-use design."