The company which has owned Eastern Hills Mall since 2003 now has its partner in place to begin a gradual transformation of the Clarence property into a mixed-use "town center." Amherst-based Uniland has become a co-owner of the property. The partners are reminding the public there's much more to do, though, before shovels go into the ground.
Mountain Development Corporation announced Wednesday it has closed on a partnership with Amherst-based Uniland Development. Chuck Breidenbach, Managing Director of Retail for the New Jersey-based entity, says they interviewed several potential suitors but Uniland "had the exact same vision as we had" to convert the shopping mall into a development that will include retail, residential and recreational space, all in separate, smaller buildings.
He likened it to a small, walkable village setting.
"Instead of having just a strip shopping center or a mall or an apartment building here or an office building there, everything is integrated on site," he said.
Jill Pawlik, spokesperson for Uniland, agreed with the "village" concept and considers it a throwback to an earlier time in America.
"Bringing all those folks together with different purposes creates density and a vibrancy that allows that area to almost create its own community feeling," Pawlik said. "
The idea is in place, but the plan is not. Representatives of both partners say there are several steps awaiting the project including a feasibility study and master planning process. Pawlik suggested it may be two to three years before construction gets underway. But the public is encouraged to learn more about the town center concept on its website and provide ideas as the project slowly but surely moves forward.
"A project of this size and scope is going to require patience but that doesn't mean people can't give us their comments, and their questions, and their suggestions and their ideas right now," she said.
What both partners want, according to Breidenbach, is an escape from the box store mindset that makes one community look like any other.
"I think we're all recognizing it," he said. "The retailers used to pretty much dictate what the centers look like and how they were constructed. They all had prototypical storefronts and signs and everything else. You want something with a lot more diversity in it today, something that's a lot more architecturally interesting than a couple of big boxes with a string of shops in between that all have the same storefront."
Eastern Hills Mall will remain open during this redevelopment process.