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Uniland officially buys into Eastern Hills Mall. Next up: town center

It's official: Uniland Development Corp. has joined forces with Eastern Hills Mall owners Mountain Development Corp., bringing the mall one giant step closer to its proposed transformation as a mixed-use town center.

Uniland sealed the deal with a $14.5 million payment to a Mountain Development Corp. affiliate, according to documents filed in the Erie County Clerk's Office. In a separate deal, Uniland paid $851,185 for the mall's former Macy's store, which Mountain had bought from Macy's for $1.85 million in 2016.

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New Jersey-based Mountain Development and Amherst-based Uniland Development confirmed last month that the two companies were in talks to team up in a joint venture to redevelop the Eastern Hills Mall property in a 50-50 venture.

Uniland said in a statement announcing the deal Wednesday that the two companies would plan the redevelopment of the 80-acre site during an "extensive feasibility and master planning process" expected to take about two to three years.

"We know that a project of this magnitude requires patience and diligence,” Uniland Vice President Carl Montante Jr. said in the statement. “It is paramount that we execute this properly for the benefit of the residents who will live there, the businesses that will operate there, the guests who will visit there, and the entire Amherst-Clarence community.”

Mountain Development had put the mall up for sale last fall as it looked for a partner with capital and expertise in its quest to take the mall from a struggling enclosed shopping center to a town center, anchored by residential and commercial space, with retail, restaurants, entertainment and community attractions mixed in.

The idea is to encourage developers to repurpose sprawling indoor malls such as the Eastern Hills Mall into town centers with smaller, upscale shops in a walkable community with new housing.

The concept is designed to promote planned developments that could include upscale shopping, hotels, entertainment and restaurants, along with town houses or housing in mixed-use buildings, and green spaces. Big-box stores, self-storage facilities, dog kennels and single-family homes could not be part of the planned developments under the town’s code, except for those that are already in existence.

Chuck Breidenbach, managing director of retail for Mountain Development, said it had been working behind the scenes on its plan to create a town center for "quite a while" and is now in a place where it can work to turn the vision "into reality under Uniland's guidance."

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To accommodate the mall's potential conversion, the Town of Clarence recently created the Lifestyle Zoning Code, which is an overlay district that includes a mix of business and residential uses. But, before any plan goes forward, there would have to be a request for a zoning change.

Town of Clarence officials said Wednesday that they want to proceed with the rezoning as soon as possible and may set a public hearing in a meeting next month. They plan to meet with the new owners prior to that.

“Our intent is to proceed with the rezoning as soon as possible,” said James Callahan, the town's director of community development. “But we were waiting for the change in ownership to make sure we were all on the same page.”

Town Board members saw Uniland's deal as a positive sign for the area.

“This is probably the largest private development in the Buffalo area since the Galleria Mall," Clarence Supervisor Patrick Casilio said.

Casilio said that the lifestyle center will be a $200 million or more investment over the next 10 years.

He said they have been talking with Eastern Hills about this for the past two years and added, “I’m glad to see that Eastern Hills won’t become another abandoned mall as has become the trend across the country.”

Uniland made the investment through a limited liability company called 4545 Transit LLC, which made the payment to Mountain Development affiliate MDC Eastern Hills LLC.

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