Canadian developer set to close on Wheatfield mall, but property’s future remains uncertain - The Buffalo News

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Canadian developer set to close on Wheatfield mall, but property’s future remains uncertain

The former Summit Park Mall may finally have a new owner, but its future remains uncertain.

A Canadian developer who has been active in Niagara Falls, Ont., is poised to make his first purchase on this side of the Niagara River when his planned acquisition of the mostly empty retail plaza closes this month.

Zoran Cocov of Mississauga, Ont., has the Wheatfield property under contract, with a closing expected within two weeks. Neither Cocov nor the mall’s current owner, Oberlin Plaza One LLC, would disclose the purchase price, though it will become public once the deed is filed.

Attorneys for the two sides are still working out details of the deal, which has been delayed for months because “there’s so many issues with the property,” said Cocov, who is also known as Zoran Cocovski. “It’s still in process.”

“We’re on the verge of getting that done,” said James Anthony Jr., managing member of Oberlin Plaza One and an executive at commercial real estate brokerage Colliers International in North Carolina.

Cocov said his immediate plans are to secure and stabilize the 750,000-square-foot property “so that vandalism doesn’t continue.” That will include installing security cameras and restoring electrical service to the entire property, which he said could take eight months from the time Cocov takes possession.

There’s also the question of fire safety and sprinklers in the complex, and there are “many issues” with electrical wires, the parking lot and the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. Parts of the property also suffered damage a year ago from flooding from a pipe.

“It’s a challenge with no income and lots of expenses,” he said. “I know it was a destination at one point. Unfortunately, it’s deteriorated over the years.”

Currently, only three stores – Bon-Ton, Save-A-Lot and Sears – operate in 260,000 square feet of the 42-year-old mall; two-thirds has been shut down for a long time with no services, Anthony said.

And while those stores are functioning, Cocov said he wasn’t sure if the long-term plan will be retail “or something completely different.”

“So it’s really a long-term redevelopment,” he said. “My primary goal is to make those improvements while I figure out what is the highest and best use.”

Opened in 1972, Summit Park Mall was long anchored by Sears, AM&A’s, Hens & Kelly, and Jenss, but the mall was struggling by the late 1990s, when it was 40 percent vacant. Turnover and renovations in 2004 and 2005 brought in other retailers and tenants, but those have since left.

Oberlin Plaza has owned it since 2002 but filed for bankruptcy protection in May 2009, and nearly closed the mall, which mostly emptied out. It’s been seeking to sell the property for a while.

Cocov is the second Canadian developer to take a shot at buying the Summit Park property in the past year. Vaughn, Ont.-based BGS Homes Inc., which does residential and commercial projects, agreed to buy the property last March, but the deal fell through after the two sides couldn’t agree on final financial terms.

Cocov owns a host of mixed-use, retail and residential properties, as well as land, in southern Ontario, including in Niagara Falls. He also owns Harmony Homes, and he sparked significant attention a few years ago when his Crosslink Bridge Inc. bought 44 acres of Canadian National Railway property, proposing a new bridge to the United States in Niagara Falls, as well as an outlet mall, hotel, museum and music hall. The project never won approval.

Still, he said, he sees potential in the region, on both sides of the border, though he wouldn’t commit to buying more here.

“It will be a challenging project on its own, so I don’t want to create an impression of buying more than one,” he said. “I want to absorb this one before I plan others.”


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