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Eastern Hills Mall owner seeks partner or may consider sale if price is right

The New Jersey-based owner of Eastern Hills Mall is looking for a joint-venture partner to help with a proposed remake of the mall into a "lifestyle center," but will also consider an outright sale if the price is right, company officials said Tuesday.

Mountain Development Corp. is seeking other real estate development and investment partners that could bring both cash and expertise to the table, as it seeks to convert part of the sprawling mall in Clarence into a town center with housing and a hotel.

That is not a new plan for Mountain Development, which has talked about such a transformation for more than a year. But it's a costly and ambitious makeover that it needs help to achieve.

"We've been looking at this all along, but we need to attract a major capital partner or a local partner with further access," said Mountain Development CEO Robert Lieb. "You're talking about a very large number to convert to a town center property."

The company is working with national brokerage firm Cushman & Wakefield, which just put out a marketing brochure promoting the property privately for a joint venture or even a sale. It did not list an asking price or investment amount, and Lieb said that "value will be determined by the market."

Lieb said the Woodland Park, N.J.-based company prefers to remain actively involved as a part-owner, with a focus on redeveloping the property and overseeing the future retail portion of the complex.

"We've been involved for some 14 years now, and we want to see it go the next stage," said Lieb, a University at Buffalo graduate. "We love being in Clarence. We have a very good relationship with all the local people in Clarence."

But the firm also needs someone else to handle development and management of the residential and hospitality components, which are not in its wheelhouse.

"We don't do hotels. We don't do residential," said Russ Fulton, general manager of the Clarence mall. "We're retail. We're storage. We're office. We're truly looking for a joint venture."

Already, officials have held talks with seven "local, big-name developers" in Buffalo, and the marketing book will be mailed or hand-delivered to others, Fulton said. Lieb said he hopes to find his partners within 90 to 120 days.

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