Va­cant store­fronts have Ham­burg con­sid­er­ing pause on plaza build­ing

The Buffalo News - - LOCAL NEWS - By Bar­bara O’Brien

When Ham­burg Su­per­vi­sor James M. Shaw drives around town, he sees plenty of com­mer­cial and re­tail space – and a lot of it is va­cant.

“The idea is, busi­ness peo­ple want to have an at­trac­tive com­mu­nity that is oc­cu­pied with thriv­ing busi­nesses. It doesn’t look good for fur­ther development to show­case main drags that are lit­tered with out­moded re­tail plazas that are 30 to 40 to 50 per­cent va­cant,” he said.

That’s why Shaw wants to call a tem­po­rary halt to the ap­proval or ex­pan­sion of shop­ping cen­ters in the town. He is ask­ing the Town Board on Mon­day to sched­ule a pub­lic hear­ing April 15 on a six-month mora­to­rium.

But Shaw does not want this to be seen as an anti-busi­ness move. “This mora­to­rium is pro-busi­ness,” he said.

“It’s not neg­a­tive, it’s also about help­ing,” said town plan­ning con­sul­tant Andrew Reilly. “Is there some­thing the town can do to im­prove the sit­u­a­tion?”

Shaw said busi­nesses want to have an at­trac­tive com­mu­nity that is oc­cu­pied with thriv­ing busi­nesses. The South­towns Re­gional Cham­ber of Com­merce no doubt would agree, although it is not tak­ing a po­si­tion on the plan.

“While the South­towns Re­gional Cham­ber of Com­merce is a busi­ness ad­vo­cate in our com­mu­nity, we have not cur­rently taken an of­fi­cial stance on this pro­posal,” said Cyn­thia Matla, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the cham­ber.

Shaw wants to form a small com­mit­tee to ex­plore meth­ods the town could use to get the va­cant store­fronts in plazas filled. Some ideas in­clude not in­creas­ing as­sess­ments on busi­nesses that make im­prove­ments, low in­ter­est loans and pur­su­ing state grants for fa­cade im­prove­ments.

In some plazas, 50 per­cent or more of the store­fronts are va­cant, he said. In oth­ers, the va­cancy rate is much lower.

“We’ve over­built our re­tail,” Shaw said. “In light of the col­lapse of the smoke­stack in­dus­tries in the ‘70s and ‘80s, we opened the flood­gates.”

He said the “old” idea that a de­vel­oper could come in and build com­mer­cial space on spec­u­la­tion that it would be filled “just isn’t work­ing out in the dig­i­tal age,” where con­sumers are buy­ing more goods on­line.

Ex­hibit A would be McKin­ley Mall, where ma­jor an­chor ten­ants have left, and the mall is in re­ceiver­ship after fall­ing delin­quent on a loan pay­ment. The mall’s value has been cut 75 per­cent.

After deal­ing with shop­ping plazas, the su­per­vi­sor would like to change the zon­ing on the mall from strictly com­mer­cial to a hy­brid of com­mer­cial, res­i­den­tial and pos­si­bly light in­dus­trial – uses that might ap­peal to de­vel­op­ers.

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