By Rick Pfeiffer
Niagara Gazette — TOWN OF NIAGARA — Officials in the Town of Niagara have taken the first step in moving forward a planned $71 million expansion of the Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls mall.
The town board voted unanimously Tuesday night to "solicit" all of the agencies potentially involved in the project to designate the town as the "lead agency" on the development. The action is the beginning of a mandated State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process."
"This is extremely important," Town Councilman Danny Sklarski said. "It's the next step, the next logical step even as the (town) planning board is receiving a presentation on the initial plans (for the mall expansion) tonight."
Town Supervisor Steve Richards said the solicitation of other agencies and the eventual designation of the town as lead agency will put the municipality in control of what happens at the Military Road mall.
"It will give us more control on the development," Richards said. "And who would know better the pluses and minuses of the project than the town."
While the town board was taking the first "official action" to advance the proposed mall expansion, the town planning board was receiving a briefing from executives with the Fashion Outlets' parent company, Macerich Real Estate Investment Trust, on initial plans for the development.
The officials said the expansion will make the mall the 20th largest in the United States. They said the local property needs to expand so it can compete with a large mall project in the planning stages at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.
"It's a great project," Doug Morrow, vice president of development for Macerich, told the planning board members. "We need to keep (expanding) to keep (the mall) fresh and keep our tenants from wondering why people are going to the next big thing in Canada."
Morrow said the project will create 900 direct and indirect construction jobs and 600 full- and part-time jobs at the mall itself.
Macerich is also seeking tax breaks from the the Town of Niagara Industrial Development Agency. The agency is considering an application for a 15-year Payment-in-Lieu-of-Taxes agreement.
The deal would save the company $7.8 million in tax payments.
The mall owners are already benefitting from a 15-year PILOT granted to the previous owners, Talisman Companies LLC, in 2009. As part of that agreement, the mall's assessed value dropped from $20 million to $15 million over the course of the agreement.