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Walmart clears hurdle as permits are issued

The Walmart supercenter at the Lockport Mall site is a go after Walmart completed the purchase of the property this week and obtained building and demolition permits from the Town of Lockport.

Supervisor Marc R. Smith said he learned Wednesday that the permits had been issued. The deed for the South Transit Road property was filed Tuesday in the Niagara County Clerk's Office, along with a 65-page development agreement.

Walmart Real Estate Business Trust of Bentonville, Ark., paid $3.95 million for the former mall. The seller was Lockport Mall LLC, a company formed by General Growth Properties of Chicago, the mall landlord.

The terms of the deal call for General Growth to arrange for the demolition of the mall, except for its only surviving tenant, the Bon-Ton store. Bon-Ton will stay in business as a stand-alone store, sharing a parking lot with the new Walmart.

Lockport Mall LLC will remain as the Bon-Ton's landlord, and the General Growth company also retains ownership of three "outparcels," which currently host an Arby's, a Wendy's and a First Niagara Bank branch.

In November 2007, the town's Planning Board granted Walmart a stack of waivers from town ordinances. Most of the waivers pertained to how close a building can come to a property boundary. The need for them was created by General Growth's desire to keep the Bon-Ton store.

Lockport Smart Growth, a group of citizens who live near the mall, sued the town over the waivers, asserting they were adopted illegally. The town won the lawsuit in State Supreme Court in April 2008, and that ruling was upheld on appeal 14 months later.

However, action on the project was stymied because General Growth had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, meaning all of its transactions had to be approved by a federal judge.

General Growth emerged from Chapter 11 in November. The papers filed Tuesday were signed by a General Growth executive Nov. 19, but Walmart didn't sign them until Dec. 21.

Walmart didn't respond to a request for information Thursday about when work on the 185,209-square-foot supercenter will begin.

"I think the residents will be excited when they see the demolition start," Smith said.

The new store, a combination discount store and supermarket, will replace the existing Walmart discount store a quarter-mile south of the mall.

Smith said he has had some talks with the landlord of the current Walmart, Developers Diversified Realty of Beachwood, Ohio, about reuse of the store. However, nothing is settled. DDR did not return a call seeking comment.

The development agreement bars General Growth from placing any grocery store, discount store, wholesale club or pharmacy on the property it still owns at the mall site.

Other banned uses of the General Growth property include theaters, nightclub, health clubs, spas or any business that sells alcoholic beverages.

The only exception is for Bon-Ton, or a company that buys control of the department store chain in the future.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com