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Ithaca Mall

The future of the Shops at Ithaca Mall was before Village of Lansing officials Monday, when Ken Farrall presented an informal review of a plan to subdivide the mall so that larger tenants may purchase their own stores.  Farrall first approached the Village in 2017, but there has been no real progress on the idea.  At Monday's meeting Farrall seemed to be ready to move forward with the plan.  While the Planning Board and Mayor said in 2017 they would entertain creating a Planned Development Area (PDA) to facilitate some zoning tweaks the plan necessitates, Farrall suggested Monday that applying for variances under the existing zoning may make the process go faster.  He said that would also make a plan to dedicate Graham Road West from mall ownership to the Village happen sooner.

"One of the things that, discussing this with with the Mayor, is how do we make this go quickly because (the road dedication) is something that the Village is very interested in having happen," Farrall said. "Maybe we proceed away from the PDA and we submit our variance request. We get our variance requests for the zero lot lines, the front edge... anything else that we may need to proceed with the subdivision.  What that does is it get us done quicker."

Namdar Realty Group owns 253 retail properties in 32 states in the United States.  It manages over four million square feet of retail space.  Farrall said the company has been successful at revitalizing malls by selling larger tenants their space.  The reasoning is that even if a major chain begins closing stores, they will close stores they rent, but keep the ones they own open.  That provides stability and confidence that anchor stores will continue to attract foot traffic for the smaller stores that still rent from them.

Proposed Mall Subdivisions

The plan for the Shops at Ithaca Mall is to create five subdivisions, not counting what remains of the mall once the large stores are sold.  Farrall confirmed that Target already owns its store, and noted that BJ's Wholesale Club is not owned by Namdar.  The other four parcels that would go up for sale are Regal Cinemas; Michael's; the south end of the mall that contains Dick's, DSW, ultra Beauty, and Best Buy; and a lot behind the Clarion Hotel that is being considered for an extended-stay hotel.

The reason the subdivisions would need variances is that Village zoning requires a certain amount of frontage and buffer space between buildings on adjoining properties.  Obviously that is not possible in a mall, especially an existing mall.  So the company will apply to the Village Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) for variances that allow them to have zero buffers and frontage.  Village Code Enforcement/Zoning Officer Stormwater Management Officer Mike Scott said that each individual property would need its own variances, meaning that the ZBA would consider them individually.

For many years Mayor Donald Hartill has tried negotiating with the mall owners for the Village to take ownership of Graham Road West, the portion of Graham Road that leads into the mall ring road that is riddled with potholes.  Hartill has argued that if the Village owns the road it can maintain it, including repaving, repairs, and sidewalks.  He says that he was close to an agreement with the previous owners, but the sale of the mall set back the negotiations to 'square one'.  Recently his efforts have born fruit in that mall officials have proposed dedicating Graham Road West all the way to BJ's Wholesale Club, pus the portion of the ring road that spans between Graham and Catherwood Roads.  That would have the added benefit for village snow plows that the Village would own a U-shaped loop of roadway.

But the road dedication is dependent on the subdivision plan.  Hartill explains that it has to do with the size of the properties -- each parcel also owns parking lot space and portions of the ring road -- and what financial institutions will accept in terms of dedicating the roads to a municipality.  Farrall told the Planning Board Monday that the sooner the Mall gets its subdivisions, the sooner the Village can have the roads.

"It gets us able to dedicate the road to the Village quicker," he said. "And I think that's what everybody's looking for, to move this along."

HotelThe mall owners are hoping to build an extended stay hotel on this lot, which is directly behind the Clarion Inn (seen at left) on North Triphammer Road. In 2017 Farrall told Village officials the new hotel would not be direct competition for the Clarion because it will serve a different market of people who need a temporary residence, rather than just a few nights' stay.

In 2017 planning board members raised concerns about lighting, drainage, and who is responsible for maintenance of the mall building, parking lot and loop road when there are multiple owners.

"My memory of our previous conversation was that it was much more focused on should there be flooding related to the mall," said Planning Board member Carolyn Greenwald. "If we divide subdivided all these properties, who's going to  take responsibility for the flooding was one, and the other was the internal shops that are being left there, which are not as successful as the stores in the outer buildings. If we were to take the corporate raider approach and take out all the value on the outside, what was the plan for the inside? And I remember what that was a lot of our discussion also."

Farrell explained that stores that buy their properties would be required to sign an Easement Covenance Cross-access Restrictions (ECCR) agreement that governs cooperative needs of a mall -- a sort of mall version of neighborhood association functions.  Each owner pays dues that cover the cost of maintenance and repair of common areas, all administered by the mall management.

"What you have to remember is at the end of the day, let's say this goes through and it's all signed and recorded... at the end of the day you're not going to see any difference because although you may have some out parcels that have been sold and they still have to sign what's called an ECCR," Farrall said. "You're still going to call the mall manager and say there's a pothole on Target's property and the mall manager will figure out how to get that filled in through the mechanisms she has. If the roof is leaking, she'll figure out how to get that done and who's responsible for it. At the end of the day, you're not going to notice anything different."

As mall shoppers know, flooding has been an issue at the mall during severe rain storms.  Village Engineer Brent Cross said that a potential problem is that the mall was built on top of a major storm water sewer, which makes maintenance of the pipe difficult.  He recalled that the previous mall owners did repair that pipe, but the repair necessarily diminished the circumference of the pipe, reducing its capacity.

"It's likely if it was designed (to handle) a 25 year storm, we, even though we design for a hundred years storms now we know that the reality is that we have worst storms than other years," Cross said. "If something looks like it's a problem, by all means, it seems like it's something we have the right to ask the question."

Farrall said that consultants are already working on the lighting plan and drainage, and said he would provide their reports to Scott.  Greenwald pressed him to provide examples of other Namdar properties that have been revitalized using a similar approach, and he said he would also provide that information.

There was some discussion about when Farrall will return with answers to the Board's concerns.  Farrall said he would coordinate with Scott to determine when the next meeting should be.

"Certainly we want to see our Mall revitalized," Planning Board Chair Lisa Schleelein said.

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