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Eastern Hills Mall considering makeover to ‘lifestyle center’

The owners of the Eastern Hills Mall are considering how to transform the sprawling Clarence shopping mall into a “lifestyle center” with a higher-end mix of stores, restaurants, office space and even a hotel, now that town officials plan to incorporate such a zoning class into the zoning code in the next few months.

Mountain Development Corp. wants to breathe new life into its mall at Transit Road and Main Street by turning it into a more upscale destination that would attract a younger and more affluent clientele. Such a transformation has been successful at other large malls around the country, such as the conversion of a 1970s-era mall into the Crocker Park Lifestyle Center in Cleveland, and officials believe Eastern Hills’ location on the edge of tony Clarence could be ideal.

The mall’s general manager Russell Fulton is meeting with the parent company’s corporate leadership at its headquarters in New Jersey, working out preliminary concepts for a new plan. The effort is still very early in the process, and details are still sketchy. Lifestyle centers, such as Easton Place in Columbus, can include a range of retail, residential, hotel, recreation and other uses.

“A lifestyle center brings all of that to the table,” said Clarence Town Supervisor Patrick Casilio. “The goal is really to have a city within a town.”

But mall spokeswoman Meghan Hinton said a redevelopment would likely include many of the locally owned and boutique-style stores that already are at the mall, plus some new national ones, with more opportunities for eating, walking and staying overnight. Small hotels or inns could be “part of the equation,” she said. “If you got stuck here in the wintertime during one of the winter storms, you’ll be all set,” she said.

The company would also likely add a lot more “greenery” to the property, in place of parking areas.

“We have such a great, large space, and we’re going to try to repurpose it and reuse it,” she said. “It’s hard for malls to keep up with the times, because everyone is shopping online. We’re going to give it a shot, and try to modernize everything. With the area we’re in, it’s a perfect fit and we’re excited to get started.”

There also would be cosmetic upgrades, and the property would probably be built up more. But Hinton didn’t think demolitions were in the works. “What we have now is staying,” she said. “We might separate some buildings by adding more, but as far as I know, it would be just adding, not taking away anything.”

This would be the first such transformation by Mountain Development, a commercial real estate developer and management firm that operates throughout the Northeast. But Hinton said they’ve “seen the switch that other companies have done throughout the nation, and are kind of taking the leap with this.”

The changeover, whose price will likely be steep, follows two months after Macy’s closed its Eastern Hills department store, and just over a week after the mall bought the store building back from the national retailer, unifying its overall property once again.

It also comes as the town has spent the last few months working on its 2025 Comprehensive Plan Review, including re-examining its zoning. Clarence leaders had already decided to change the code to allow for a lifestyle center in a major arterial like Transit, even before meeting with mall officials recently, Casilio said.

That requires several changes, to permit denser development and multiple uses than might currently be permitted in the town code. For example, the town has a two-story height limit on apartment buildings, but the new code could allow four stories, Casilio said.

“This gives them an opportunity to go in a different direction if they choose to do that,” he said. “It also makes it easier to line up financing and partners if the town has the proper code in place.”

Planning officials would still have to draft a formal amendment to the code, and any changes would have to go through the review process over the next few months, including public hearings. Changes would also still be subject to normal municipal approvals, including site plans.

But Hinton said the discussions at least opened a lot of doors. “Everything was just in idea mode until we got approval from the town,” she said. “Now it’s full speed ahead for us.”

email: jepstein@buffnews.com