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Summit mall sports dome plan in Wheatfield revised

WHEATFIELD – The owner of the Summit, the largely empty shopping mall on Williams Road in Wheatfield, has altered his plan to use a sports complex, with an inflatable dome as a drawing card for visitors and shoppers.

Town Supervisor Robert B. Cliffe said instead of a single dome as much as 110 feet high, the plan has been revised to call for two domes, each 75 feet high, connected by a walkway. There would be 96,000 square feet of space under each dome, compared to 138,000 square feet beneath the single one.

“The two (combined) are slightly larger than the one, but it adds to greater structural integrity,” said Planning Board chairman Walter D. Garrow, whose board received the revisions earlier this month.

However, the redesign means the developer must start over in obtaining variances from the town Zoning Board of Appeals, as well as approvals from the town Fire Advisory Board, the Niagara County Planning Board and perhaps, given the height of the domes, the Federal Aviation Administration.

The original single dome was to cover an area large enough for two football fields and six basketball courts, Garrow said. Now, there will be one field and three courts under each bubble.

“There will be a turf area suitable for 11-versus-11 soccer,” said Neal Turvey, the local youth sports official who is recruiting local sports organizations to line up practice and game time at the new facility once it’s built.

Turvey said football is not in the picture for the Summit. He said soccer, baseball and softball will be the primary uses for the athletic fields.

As for the hard courts, the three basketball courts under each dome could also be arranged into as many as five volleyball courts, or one for indoor field hockey.

The mall was bought in 2014 by Brampton, Ont., real estate developer Zoran Cocov, who envisioned using the sports facility as a means of providing ready-made customers for the stores he intends to recruit. The current surviving stores at the once-bustling mall – Sears, Save-a-Lot and Bon Ton – are expected to stay. However, Sears Holdings sent the Planning Board a letter, presented at the March 2 meeting, which said they hadn’t been asked about the sports dome project and therefore opposed it.

However, according to the Planning Board minutes, the owner of the Save-a-Lot store said he’s looking at property on Military Road in the Town of Niagara and might move out if the sports dome project falls through.

Much of the mall needs a renovation, since under former ownership, vandals damaged or stripped most of the plumbing and other infrastructure.

In November 2014, the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency gave Cocov a five-year tax break, featuring a complete exemption on paying sales tax on building materials, furnishings and equipment for projects at the mall. There’s also a property tax break, applying only to any increase in the assessed valuation resulting from the planned improvements.

“They want the whole mall to come back,” Turvey said. Cocov could not be reached for comment last week.

The sports domes would be placed behind the mall, entered through the food court. At least one local resident who opposes the project called for the domes to be placed in front of the mall, but it appears that won’t happen.

“The problem is, that blocks off the front of the mall. It hurts the marketing,” Turvey said.

Cliffe said, “They didn’t think they wanted to do that unless the Planning Board found it reasonable to put it in front of the mall.”

Other than that suggestion, Garrow said, the public seems “very supportive” of the sports domes. According to board minutes, one unidentified speaker said, “I live in this neighborhood and I wish this project was built yesterday. Something like this will make families move in.”

The domes are expected to be open from 5 to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, with hours 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday through Sunday.

The price tag for the sports dome project hasn’t been disclosed, but when he bought the mall, Cocov estimated the complete renovation he envisioned might cost $17 million. Cocov also bought 570 acres of vacant land around the mall for undetermined future development.

The Planning Board has asked Cocov’s company, Niagara International Sports and Entertainment, for a lighting study and background noise measurements on the fence line for future comparison. Also, the company was asked to hire a landscape architect to try to preserve the character of the nearby residential neighborhood.