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Wal-Mart project is back on for mall site Retailer is required to find new tenant

The Wal-Mart supercenter project is back on at the Lockport Mall site, but the deal has been altered so that Wal-Mart will be responsible for finding a new tenant for its existing store.

The retail giant, in a letter disclosed during Tuesday's Town Board work session, requested to have its 185,000-square-foot combination supermarket and discount store placed on the agenda for the Aug. 14 work session of the Planning Board.

Town Supervisor Marc R. Smith said Tuesday that the approval process could be completed by the end of August.

"I wish they'd kept the pedal to the metal. They'd be done by now," Smith said, adding that he found, while collecting signatures on his nominating petitions for re-election last month, that the No. 1 concern of voters was getting the supercenter deal accomplished.

Wal-Mart slammed the brakes on the project six months ago, when it appeared to be on the brink of long-delayed approvals from the town Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals.

The reason for the delay appeared to be objections lodged by the mall's current owner, General Growth Properties of Chicago, to the terms of a property swap. Wal-Mart was to buy most of the mall on South Transit Road and turn over its lease on the existing store a quarter-mile to the south to General Growth for reuse.

Councilman David H. Knight said in April that General Growth raised its price for the South Transit Road mall by $1 million. Phil Serghini, a Wal-Mart spokesman, would not confirm the figure. At one point, Wal-Mart said it was scouting other locations in the area in case it could not buy the virtually empty mall. "That was always our preferred location," Serghini said Tuesday. "We do not have a completed deal with General Growth, but we're confident we'll have one in a couple of weeks. We're finalizing the details."

The mall situation will not change. The Bon-Ton store there will survive the demolition of the rest of the mall and become a stand-alone store, sharing a parking lot with the Wal-Mart supercenter.

"That's an excellent location for us. We will continue to stay in that mall," Bon-Ton spokesman Mary Kerr said.

Smith said the real snarl arose when General Growth discovered how much it would have to charge a tenant at the old Wal-Mart store. The lease on the existing Wal-Mart, held by Cleveland-based Developers Diversified Realty, required General Growth, or anyone else subleasing the site, to pay rent of $7 per square foot.

"You can't get that in Lockport," Smith said. "The going rate in our area [for retail space] is $5 per square foot. . . . They didn't think they could break even at $7."

"Wal-Mart will be retaining its lease obligations at its current location after Wal-Mart has relocated to the Lockport Mall site. Wal-Mart's Relocation Team will be seeking a new tenant for the current store," wrote Leslie M. Senglaub, Wal-Mart's Rochester attorney, in a letter dated July 19 to town Building Inspector Eugene Nenni.

Senglaub wrote in her letter that the Planning Board would have to change its report of findings on the project to take note of the elimination of the property swap.

"I don't see any problem with putting them back on [the agenda]," said Planning Board Chairman Richard Forsey. "If they haven't changed any of their plans and they're still able to change the outside of the Bon-Ton building, as General Growth was going to do, that should go through quite smoothly."

Wal-Mart needs site plan and special-use permit approval from the Planning Board and approval of variances from the Zoning Board of Appeals, which next meets Aug. 28.

Smith said Wal-Mart will still be paying for new sidewalks near the mall on Shimer Drive and Locust Street Extension, along with improved water lines near the mall.


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