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Discount Diva: What's next for the Boulevard, Eastern Hills and Summit malls

Samantha Christmann

People always mean it as a compliment, but it’s the death knell for any retailer.

“I like to shop there. It’s never crowded.”

That’s what they used to say about the Summit Park Mall before it closed. And that’s what people have said for the past few years about the Eastern Hills and Boulevard malls.

Fortunately, for all three, reincarnation lies ahead. With enclosed malls falling out of favor, developers have had to get creative, rethinking the vast retail spaces. Here’s how.

Boulevard Mall. Local real estate developer Nick Sinatra and a group of investors had the winning bid of $24 million in the online auction of the Boulevard Mall earlier this month. Surrounded by favorable demographics on a highly trafficked corner, it’s a valuable piece of real estate.

Sinatra told The News he’ll keep the mall running as is for now, but he eventually plans to turn it “inside out,” creating a “walkable village.” In several phases, he’ll turn the property into a town center with housing, building along Niagara Falls Boulevard and Maple Road.

There’s no word as to when he expects work to start or how long the first phase might take. The housing would appeal to people age 55 and older, as well as University at Buffalo students.

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Eastern Hills Mall. Much to its benefit, Eastern Hills has been hard at work on the town center concept for years. Being first to market will be a major advantage: Some people think Western New York can only support one town center.

Hit hard by national closures and with leasing negotiations hurt by the coming changes, Eastern Hills is in a weird state of limbo. Take a stroll through the Eastern Hills Mall and you’ll get a strong, late-stage Summit Mall vibe.

Still, the mall is doing an admirable job keeping things going with its local retailers. It’s got restaurants, a massive BFLO Gallery & Gifts store and an Airsoft course coming – and that’s just at its former Sears store. Creative leasing like that is what makes it the only local mall without an empty anchor tenant (most of which are owned and controlled by an outside entity).

Between the mall’s management, its ownership and the design firm it has in place, it has the right vision for the future. Now it just needs $200 million to bring it all to life.

The Summit. For most of us, the beleaguered place exists only as a fond memory. But if its owners can get it done, the Summit will rise again as a sports and entertainment venue.

Big Thunder Brewing Co., a microbrewery and restaurant, is planned for the former Save-A-Lot store, and two 96,000-square-foot, outdoor sports facilities may be built along the outside of the mall to host volleyball, baseball, soccer, softball and lacrosse events. There would be an outdoor bar beside four outdoor volleyball courts. Parker’s Proper Fish & Chips restaurant, which closed on South Park Avenue in September, also plans to relocate there.

But there is a lot of space left to fill. The mall has a total of 800,000 square feet and 570 acres around it. And it has seen setback after setback, from vandalism to lost tax credits. Only time will tell how things turn out, but everyone is pulling for its success.

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