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The Town Board approved an agreement Monday to reduce the property assessment of Summit Park Mall by almost half.

By a unanimous vote, the board dropped the assessment to $5.2 million for the taxing years of 1999 and 2000. Before the owners sought a lowering of the assessment in court, the property had been assessed at nearly $10 million.

Town Attorney Robert O'Toole said he considered the town "very fortunate to get a settlement" at this amount in view of declining business at the 29-year-old retail complex.

Haywood Whichard, the North Carolina real estate investor who purchased the mall from Cigna Corp. last March, had filed an Article 7 petition a month after the purchase to reduce the assessment.

O'Toole noted that the board's private appraiser listed the mall's value at about $7 million while Whichard's lawyers claimed it was worth $3.3 million, slightly more than the $3.05 million Whichard paid for it.

A separate settlement with Jenwill Realty lowered the assessment of the former Jenss store to $615,000 from $1 million.

O'Toole, along with Supervisor Timothy E. Demler, was part of the delegation that visited last week with Whichard in North Carolina to push for a more aggressive approach at promoting the mall, which is at about 30 percent occupancy.

Demler said the session was "a very productive meeting -- not one that you would have expected."

He said the town's position is that the ailing mall is "still an important part of Wheatfield as a retail complex and not as a government-owned building."

Niagara County officials are looking into moving some offices into the site.

Demler said Whichard was to e-mail mall tenants today with a game plan he said he hoped would bring positive results.

In his memorandum to the tenants, Whichard stated he would realign the mall management and replace manager Larry Rose with Barry Moll, maintenance director.

The owner also said he would: find an on-site leasing agent to fill vacancies; explore bringing county offices into the mall; attract more food operators; bring in more events and traffic by working with town and county officials to devise a new marketing strategy; and work to retain current tenants.

In other business, the board:

Agreed to investigate the buyout of the county workers' compensation group at a cost of about $275,000. By finding an insurance company with cheaper premiums, the town could make up the cost in about two years, it was noted.

Learned that the Wheatfield Seniors, a social group with more than 400 members, would be moving from the basement in Town Hall while a new handicapped-accessible ramp and elevator are being installed. The group would be meeting at the Wheatfield Lions Club and American Legion Post 1451, both on Ward Road, until the new community center is finished in July. Members thanked Councilman Art Palmer for his work at finding the temporary sites.

Donated $1,000 on a motion by Demler to the Niagara-Wheatfield Wildcats to help fund the cheerleaders' trip to Orlando, Fla., next month for a national competition.

Approved the purchase of a $2,500 labeling system to help identify and inventory town equipment. The labels would be stamped on equipment and tools valued at more than $100 in the Recreation, Water, Highway and Sewer departments as well as Town Hall.

Scheduled a workshop meeting for 6:30 p.m. Feb. 26.

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