BY JUSTIN SONDEL
Niagara Gazette —
The Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls mall owners have purchased the trailer park adjacent to one of the mall's parking lots for $4 million.
Fashion Outlets II, LLC a newly formed subsidiary of Macerich Partnership, L.P., was the only bidder on the property at the Friday morning auction held in the Niagara County Courthouse in Lockport.
Ted Janese III, the Niagara Falls attorney appointed as the referee by State Supreme Court Justice Richard Kloch Sr. for the foreclosure proceedings, read the terms of sale and then called out for other bidders before awarding the sale to Fashion Outlets II.
Macerich owned the lien on the property and was the Plaintiff in the foreclosure proceedings against Sabre Park Associates, LLC.
Macerich, which is headquartered in Santa Monica, Calif., bought the mall from AWE Tailsman Company of Coral Gables, Fla. for about $200 million in July of last year.
Brian Flanagan, a Rochester attorney, represented Macerich during the foreclosure proceedings and submitted the bid at the auction on behalf of Fashion Outlets II. As he and Janese signed paperwork a group of upset Sabre Park residents expressed their anger over what one resident, who refused to give his name to reporters, described as a behind-the-scenes deal.
"They never gave us notification," the resident said, his voice shaking with anger. "They've been lying to us since the beginning."
Robert Kehoe, also a resident of the park, stood in front of reporters looking despondent. He said that some residents of the park wanted to stay in their homes and had discussed raising money to bid, but that they were no match for the large business that bought the land.
"Who is going to come up with that kind of money?," Kehoe asked referring to the $4 million bid from Fashion Outlets II.
Kehoe said that he is not sure what he will do if he is evicted, as he expects will happen once his lease has expired.
Janese said that the earliest date that Fashion Outlets II would be able to file eviction notices would be December 1.
"What are we supposed to do?," Kehoe asked.
He said he is worried about what school district his daughter, who is in special needs classes, will end up in.
"Now I got to pick up and move," Kehoe said.
In a phone interview Karen Maurer, a spokesperson for Macerich working out of their Arizona satellite office, declined to comment one way or another on speculation that Macerich bought the park with plans to expand.
"We just won the auction today and I can't speak to any immediate plans," Maurer said.
Macerich will honor all leases now in place, Maurer said.
"We can now start working with the park manager and figure out what is going on with the lease agreements and the daily operations of the park," Maurer said.
Back at Sabre Park men in hard hats pulled debris from a dilapidated trailer as a door flapped in the wind of the late morning.
Around the park trailers with condemned signs pasted to them are marked with black and red spray paint, signifying the homes that have been checked for toxic contaminants such as asbestos and are ready for the bulldozer. Dirt patches mark the plots of land where houses that have already made their way to the rubble pile once stood.
John Ottaviano, the Lockport attorney appointed by Kloch as receiver of the rents as part of the foreclosure process, said that of the 286 lots in the park only 44 have residents still living on them and 30 of those tenants are delinquent on their rent.
But amongst the paint-marked trailers with broken windows and stripped siding sit well-kept homes with bushy green gardens, still lived in and loved by their owners.
Inside one such home, a squat house with tan siding and brown shutters, sat Judi Dinsmore late Friday morning. Looking contemplative and defeated, she spoke to this reporter about the troubles she fears are on the horizon.
Dinsmore's 22-year-old son Michael is disabled and bound to a wheel chair. He has a long list of medical needs and visits doctors throughout the region regularly. The Town of Niagara location was ideal for Michael because it is centrally located to the many places that Dinsmore needs to take him, she said.
"Never in my life would I have though that I would have the dirt sold out from under me," Dinsmore said.
Dinsmore's home is a double wide trailer and the only parks that she could find that would accept it, both because of its size and age, were far away, she said.
Michael, a cancer survivor who received a kidney transplant last February sometimes has to go to Erie County Medical Center for treatment, Dinsmore said.
"Everything for him is right here," Dinsmore said. "Why would I want to take him out into the sticks."
Like Robert Kehoe, the park resident who was at the morning auction, Dinsmore expects to either be evicted or not offered a new lease.
"By this time next year there's probably going to be a parking lot here," Dinsmore said.
Dinsmore's home is specially equipped with widened doors and a wheelchair ramp, built by Michael's father, she said.
"We put a lot of work into it," Dinsmore said. "All we had left to do was the two driveways and the shed."
Dinsmore said that she and some of the other residents spoke with several groups looking for legal advice, including University at Buffalo law students, and explored different options that would allow them to keep their homes.
But those efforts fell short because too many people fled the park scared by the uncertainties, she said.
In June the park offices were fire bombed. Police have made no arrests, but continue to investigate the incident.
"Those that left, left out of fear," Dinsmore said.
For now, Dinsmore plans to stay in her home and wait out the legal process, she said.
"We'll stay right here and see what happens," Dinsmore said. "Doors open and close all the time."