LANSING, N.Y. — With the closing of many big chain stores across the country, it’s a rough time to be in the business of shopping malls. The owners of the Shoppes at Ithaca Mall are hoping the village of Lansing can give them some more flexibility with new zoning.
The owners of the property are proposing a Planned Development Area (PDA) for the mall that would allow them to subdivide the larger stores and services, such as Dick’s, Regal Cinemas, and Best Buy, and require the tenants of those spaces to buy their store spaces. The intent is that if the tenants own the space rather than rent it, they’ll be less inclined to close should their economic situations turn sour, since they would then have to figure out what to do with surplus space weighing on their bottom lines. An additional effect of this is that, with the greater stability provided by locking larger tenants down, smaller store tenants would be more likely to remain in place.
Mall tenants that own their spaces would be required to sign an Easement Conveyance for Cross-access Restrictions ( ECCR), which is basically a Homeowner’s Association for the mall, serving to legalize maintenance of common spaces, utilities, landscaping and parking areas.
The PDA, a sort of do-it-yourself zoning, is intended to accommodate the unique format of mall stores next to each other, since village Commercial High-Traffic (CHT) zoning is designed for separate buildings with their own setbacks, lot lines and parking. Under existing zoning, every change in store footprints would require a trip to the zoning board, a potentially cumbersome process for both the mall and the village.
“The purpose of utilizing the PDA is to provide for the creative redevelopment of the Mall by providing relief from the zoning ordinance requirements to the properties that comprise the mall, while preserving the application of the zoning ordinance to the mall as a whole. This will also better manage the approval process and allow future business to secure the approvals in a timely manner,” writes the mall in their PDA application. The owners are also seeking to allow additional commercial uses for mall property, including medical facilities, hardware sales and service, day care centers, auto parts and other commercial service or retail functions not currently permitted by Lansing’s zoning.
Physically, the change would be little if anything in the short-term. The land behind the Ramada Inn would be subdivided off from the mall’s 50.44 acres, ultimately to be developed into a three-story extended-stay hotel. The application leaves the door open to new tenants in the mall itself, or built on surrounding outparcels, so long as they fit within the town’s zoning laws for the whole mall property (setbacks, parking, etc.)
It should be noted that the ownership of the $31 million Shoppes at Ithaca Mall is a bit of mystery at the moment. As noted in the Lansing Star and Ithaca Times, there was a recent change in ownership, but that change doesn’t show up in county records. PMI Newco LLC is listed on the site plan, which is an operation of long-time owner Pyramid Companies. The project has been represented at meetings by Kenneth Farrall, a manager at CMC Engineering of suburban Philadelphia. Farrall has spoken of the same owner-occupied format being used at the owner’s other properties in Florida, Iowa and New Hampshire, which suggests a large national firm.
Some retail business analysts are estimating that up to one-third of American shopping malls will close their doors in the next several years, thanks to a combination of an over-retailed environment and the impact of online retailers like Amazon. In perhaps the clearest sign of the changing times, a shuttered mall in suburban Cleveland is being replaced with an Amazon distribution center.
Correction: Target already owns their store through a ground lease, the only store in the mall that does. The Voice regrets the error.