AMHERST, N.Y. — The effort to transform the Boulevard Mall into a mixed use neighborhood continues with the Town of Amherst now seeking to clear a legal path for the infrastructure to get underway.
2 On Your Side learned more about the progress of the urban renewal process, which actually began last summer.
We have seen the plan for the recreation of the Boulevard Mall to change over from the now-largely-empty mall complex, to a mixed-use community project with residential and park space mixed in.
But the momentum was stalled a bit by the so-called "legacy leases" of old retailers, which had packed up and moved away or went out of business.
Town Supervisor Brian Kulpa said, "If you can imagine this, there was a lease written to Sears, which Sears sold. But some Sears Holdings is still the name on the lease. Limited companies, which don't even operate anymore in there, right? Stores like The Limited and Victoria's Secret, they're not even in the mall, and they still have leases. And those leases have rights to the outside of the mall: what you can and cannot do with your parking lots, shared parking arrangements."
Kulpa added that the town has its goal of also getting the existing Macy's and JC Penney stores to limit their retail footprint in the new project. He says that will allow them to proceed.
"Take the rest of the mall apart, introduce new infrastructure, because we don't have any streets there. We also don't have any sewer or water there. Very minimal amount of sewer or water going to that mall," Kulpa said.
That is why the town opted for the urban renewal strategy, and it apparently worked, according to the supervisor.
"We couldn't get JC Penneys to return phone calls early on. Once you tell tell them you're going to take their building, they're eager to talk, so the good news is the three primary property owners are all at the table, and they're all eager to be participatory in this process, and that's great," Kulpa said.
So now that the leases will be cleared as of the middle of 2024, actual work can begin, Kulpa said.
"The mall could be all of or partially demolished, and we can introduce new infrastructure. Then the private sector can do what the private sector wants to do, which is build up," he said.
Again, the three players moving forward for the Boulevard Mall project are JC Penney, which owns its store property, Benderson Development, and then Douglas Development, which is developer Douglas Jemal.
Kulpa says perhaps this approach could be applied to other fading mall properties in the area. That might include the McKinley Mall in Hamburg, which was recently auctioned off to an as yet unidentified owner.
"We think what we're doing isn't necessarily earth shattering," Kulpa said. "There are places that have figured out how to cannibalize old malls before. But we think that this is establishing a way to do it, and that other groups can simulate."