Brian Florence's Commentary:

Posted May 1, 2009

This just in from an anonymous source at the Aviation Mall (this is not confirmed):

Sears will be closing its anchor store and moving into the Super KMart building on the other side of town.

This makes sense on a couple of levels.
  1. Sears rents its space from Aviation Mall. Sears and KMart are the same company, and KMart owns their supercenter.
  2. Sears wants out of malls anyway as malls as a shopping destination are on the decline (hence this site)
  3. Walmart has plans approved by the town of Queensbury to build another Supercenter, strategically positioned not a quarter mile from Super Kmart.
This move helps position Sears and Kmart against Walmart. Super Kmart, the last one in all of New York and New England, doesn't stand a chance against Walmart.

Walmart Supercenter is currently located 4 miles away near the interstate and centrally located between 2 exits and perfect for tourists that frequent the area in the summer to Lake George and the Great Escape, and winter for skiing.

The location of Super Kmart is prime for attracting customers from the nearby village of Hudson Falls and other towns in Washington County that aren't served by any department store.

By adding Sears, this will ensure that Super Kmart offers services and products you simply cannot get from Walmart, including Sears signature product line of Diehard, Tires, Appliances, lawn and garden, appliances, and clothing. A couple of these items have worked their way into Kmart since the merger, but with Sears actually signed on the building, it will be obvious.

Aviation mall has been trying, for years, to remain ahead of the curve. Its most recent updates (last 3 years) were adding Target, a 99 Restaurant, Victoria's Secret, Dick's Sporting Goods, and bringing back Foot Locker and Spencers. One of those choices included a Steve & Barry's, which was not open more than 6 months before the chain went belly-up.

The mall announced grandiose expansion plans a couple months ago, as they often do every couple of years, only to be scaled back, as they are each time. Plans were for a Best Buy, Red Robin, and other secret stores to be built on an outparcel of land now inhabited by a defunct Howard Johnson's Restaurant and hotel. The mall purchased them in the late 90's, and hasn't done a thing with them since, other than loaning them to local fire departments for training excercises.

Stay tuned!

Brian Florence's Old Commentary (from 2001):

I guess you can say Aviation Mall is not dead and never has been too close to dead. The mid-90s brought expansion to the mall when JC Penney built a brand new store right next to their old one. The old store was then converted into more open mall space with new stores including "Klein's All Sports," a "Lechters," and a soon to be ill-fated "Lauriats" bookstore (which now is a dollar store). There is a ton of room for additional stores in this area that is sitting empty. I know the corner butting up to the Lechters was used by Caldor as storage space for inventory. It's probably empty now.

The Hoyt's cinema doubled it's capacity during the mid-90s as well, making the theatre exclusively accessible from within the mall. Beforehand you would walk down a hallway to get to the theatre from within the mall; from outside the theatre box office had it's own entrance. This was removed.

Aviation Mall was anchored by JC Penney, Sears, and Caldor (which closed their store in April of 1998). The whole Caldor chain went out in December of 1998. Bon-Ton moved into the Caldor building totally revamping it and adding an external entrance, where Caldor could only be entered via the mall atrium. Bon-Ton is rumored to be underperforming and has moved all their newer merchandise out of the store. Sears and JC Penney are doing alright.

McDonald's pulled out of the mall summer of 1997 despite what I noticed was booming business, mostly by mall employees. I can only figure they wanted to concentrate business on the other nine area restaurants. Ground Round closed around that time as well. The food court is mediochre at best boosting a Taco Bell, Arby's, Sbarro Pizza, a Chinese food, and Smoothie.

Just recently (and behind all other local malls I've noticed) Internet booths have been installed.

For a laugh, check out Aviation Mall's old web site.

Pyramid's Destiny

Syracuse proposal dwarfs all other mall plans

[email protected]
(courtesy The Post Star, Saturday December 22, 2001)

As the owners of Aviation Mall squabble with Queensbury officials over financial matters that mostly number in the thousands of dollars, the company is planning an expansion of another mall it owns, the cost and size of which boggles the mind.

The Pyramid Cos. of Syracuse, which owns Aviation Mall in Queensbury and 23 other malls throughout the Northeast, is planning a $1.7 billion -- yes, that's billion -- expansion to the company's Carousel Center mall in Syracuse.

At the same time, Pyramid is battling Queensbury officials over the assessed value of Aviation Mall and over the cost of tearing down a fire-ravaged hotel complex the company owns. Both issues could very well end up being decided by a court.

If Pyramid's Syracuse plan comes to fruition, the result will be a retail behemoth the likes of which cannot be found anywhere else in the country -- bigger even than Minnesota's Mall of America, now a major tourist attraction.

The name given to the new mall in Syracuse is "Destiny USA," which emphasizes the "ny" in the name.

Although final details are still being hammered out, company officials have offered total project numbers of about 5 million square feet on an 800-acre campus. That's nearly 10 times the size of Aviation Mall, which houses about 80 stores in 591,000 square feet on 60 acres.

At the heart of the new mall would be a 65-acre glassed-enclosed atrium complete with a concert amphitheater with seating for up to 15,000, a nine-hole golf course, two large recreation fields, a botanical garden and an indoor mountain featuring water slides in the winter and toboggan runs in the summer.

Consultants hired by Pyramid predict 35 million visitors each year, making the mall the fifth largest tourist attraction in the nation -- on par with Las Vegas.

If Destiny USA becomes a reality by July 2004, the state has vowed to build a $25 million, 50,000-square-foot international tourism and exposition center there. The tourism center is expected to market the entire upstate region.

But some Syracuse officials are skeptical that the vision Pyramid has for Carousel Center will ever come to be -- and a group of Queensbury officials say they should be skeptical.

Comparable expansion plans

It was just a few years ago that Pyramid was proposing large-scale expansions at Aviation Mall and Crossgates Mall in Guilderland, which the company also owns. In each case, the mall mogul had proposed nearly tripling the size of the malls.

But, after land acquisitions by the company and much publicity for each proposal, plans were halted or downsized considerably to the point of being nearly non-existent.

In Guilderland, the project was blocked by town officials, many of whom feared the massive expansion would overwhelm the community with noise, traffic and additional crime.

In Queensbury, company officials said a lack of interest from retailers interested in occupying the additional space was the killer. Now the proposal to expand the size of Aviation Mall to 1.5 million square feet has been whittled down to include a few free-standing "big box" retail stores.

Some town officials say broken promises like that are becoming a pattern with Pyramid, and that the company has proven itself long on vision but short on results.

Roger Boor, who will be sworn in as town councilman of Ward 1 in Queensbury on Jan. 1, criticized Pyramid during a meeting of the Town Board this week, accusing the company of using promises to drive up the market price of its property.

"How many times are we going to bend over backwards for expansion plans that never happen?" Boor asked. "As far as I'm concerned, Pyramid is using this (Aviation Mall expansion plans) as a tool to market their property."

John Strough, a member of the Queensbury Planning Board, believes Pyramid's motivation in Queensbury was, at least in part, to persuade local officials to rezone and offer tax incentives on commercial land owned by the company, thereby driving up the market price.

"If they could spend a few thousand to get planning approvals in place and then turn around and make a couple million on the land, that's a pretty good investment," Strough said.

Officials said Pyramid is known for ramrodding projects through at the local level. In both Guilderland and Queensbury, planning officials were told they had to act right away or risk losing the deal to another community.

In Syracuse

Those methods sound familiar, said Mark Stanczyk, a member of the Onondaga County Legislature whose district includes a portion of the city of Syracuse.

Stanczyk said city councilors and county legislators were told last summer that Pyramid must have an unprecedented 30-year tax break program on the entire Carousel Center mall to allow the company to build an 800,000-square-foot addition there. The mall now includes 1.6 million square feet.

Pyramid told officials that tax incentives and planning approvals had to be in place to break ground in the fall, then in the spring. But after both were granted, the project stalled while Pyramid compiled its latest proposal, Stanczyk said.

Stanczyk said he opposed the tax incentives offered last year, and opposes the breaks Pyramid is asking for this time around -- which include greater relief on the local level and new incentives on the state level.

Whether a portion of the new mall should be included in Onondaga County's Empire Zone -- an area that offers incentives including tax credits and lower utility rates -- is one request being considered by Onondaga County legislators, Stanczyk said.

And Pyramid makes it tough to say no, he said.

"They have found that if they threaten to go elsewhere, they can win support," he said. "No one wants to be known as the guy who drove the project from the county."

"In the interim, what they are actually doing is getting a beautiful tax package and an expedited planning process," he said.

Few tax breaks locally

Pyramid has received few tax breaks to date in the town of Queensbury.

The only incentive came during a $3 million expansion of the mall in 1994 when an 80,000-square-foot expansion allowed the addition of a new J.C. Penney store, Queensbury Assessor Helen Otte said.

For that expansion, Pyramid received a business building exemption, which allowed the company an immediate 50 percent reduction in the assessed value of the new addition. That break shrinks by 5 percent per year until it expires fully in 2004, Otte said.

But the company was able to push through a significant rezoning and planning approvals on the land it bought in 1998 for the expansion plan it was touting at Aviation Mall.

The Town Board voted in August to rezone the property, which is located northwest of the mall on Aviation Road, from a "highway commercial" designation to an "enclosed shopping center" designation, a zone that is unique in the town to Aviation Mall.

The rezoning allows for structures up to 80 feet in height, as long as only 50 feet of the structure is visible from Aviation Road, thereby making the property more valuable to retailers.

A legacy of litigation

The assessment challenge by Pyramid against Queensbury could cost town and county taxpayers $700,000 and Queensbury school district taxpayers another $1.5 million. The company's lawsuit challenges tax assessments from 1995 through this year.

Otte said the town is in the process of acquiring an appraisal of the mall property from an independent auditor and said a court date has yet to be scheduled on the lawsuit brought by Pyramid.

The town and school are splitting the estimated $25,000 cost of fighting the litigation.

According to the Warren County office of real property, the Aviation Mall property is divided into 10 parcels. The total assessed value is $48.9 million. Pyramid is seeking to have that number reduced to $25.4 million.

The company has also contested the value of the 240-store Crossgates Mall every year since the early 1990s. Crossgates is assessed at $198 million.

In its most recent lawsuit, launched in March 2000, Pyramid contends that the mall is worth 40 percent less than what the town of Guilderland claims, or $119 million. If the town loses the lawsuit, which is still entangled in the appeals process, the county, town and school district stand to lose more than $12 million in tax revenue.

Some Queensbury officials have also voiced concern that by sinking so much of its financial assets into the new megamall in Syracuse, Pyramid will not have the financial resources to invest in smaller malls such as Crossgates and Aviation.

But Robert Orlando, general manager of Aviation Mall, sees the Syracuse project as being an economic shot in the arm for the entire region.

"The Destiny project is like none other in the entire country, and stands alone," he said. "It's going to be an economic boon for the entire state."

The latest battle

The Queensbury Town Board recently initiated a court action to force Pyramid to tear down the former Howard Johnson's motel and the attached Blacksmith's Shop Restaurant -- structures that remain on the mall's northwest property.

The motel and restaurant have stood vacant since Pyramid bought the property in 1998, and have each been a target of arsonists in recent months and have become a hangout for local youths and transients.

Pyramid has until Feb. 20 to act on the Town Board's mandate, or the town can have the structure demolished and assess the cost against property taxes on the parcel.

Jonathan Lapper, a local development attorney representing Pyramid, plans to argue during a meeting of the Town Board on Jan. 14 in favor of repairing the long-vacant building rather than demolishing it.

But Town Board members have made it clear in recent meetings that they've heard enough rhetoric from Pyramid and now want action.

"We're at a point where hard decisions need to be made," Boor said.

Mall expansion to include bike, pedestrian access

[email protected]
(courtesy The Post Star, Thursday August 23, 2001)

(does anyone think it's NOT a Target? hehe)

QUEENSBURY -- Reacting to concerns about a lack of pedestrian and bicycle access, officials of Aviation Mall have promised to build a walkway connecting the mall's new anchor store with existing sidewalks along Aviation Road.

Bicycle racks near the entrance of the new store will also be provided, mall officials told the Queensbury Planning Board Tuesday night.

Mall officials on Tuesday released an architectural rendering of the proposed new 125,000-square-foot store showing a tan color scheme broken by two horizontal yellow lines.

But officials remained silent about the identity of the retailer that would occupy the new store.

Russ Pittinger, a partner with the LA Group, which is engineering the mall's new anchor store, said the mall has historically been a "car oriented" destination and thus has paid more attention to vehicle access than to pedestrian access.

But reacting to concerns voiced during public hearings on its plan, Pittinger said the mall's owner, Pyramid Cos., has agreed to build a combination of crosswalks and sidewalks that will link the new retail store with sidewalks on the south side of Aviation Road.

Pittinger and other Pyramid officials were before the Planning Board on Tuesday as part of the site review process for the new retail anchor store.

Other concerns addressed by mall officials included lighting schemes, the project's stormwater plan, landscaping, parking, the reconfiguration of the mall's internal ring-road and the placement of loading docks at the new store.

Although most of the concerns were answered to the apparent satisfaction of board members, the Planning Board tabled the application until Sept. 4 to allow the town's consultant to review the mall's plan.

The Town Board signed off on the environmental portion of the project a few weeks ago, but the Planning Board must also put its seal of approval on the report, said Chris Round, the town's director of economic development.

The environmental report must be accepted by the Planning Board before the plan receives its site plan approvals, Round said.

Mall officials also addressed concerns Tuesday about three vacant Aviation Road buildings that the mall owns on the western portion of its property -- the former Howard Johnson motel, the former 7 Steers Restaurant and a former gas station.

As a requirement of the environmental report, the Town Board said the mall must have a commitment from a local business interested in occupying the restaurant within 60 days of the issuance of a building permit for the mall expansion.

If no such commitment is made, the mall must present a landscape plan for the four parcels.

But on Tuesday, Jonathan Lapper, a lawyer representing Pyramid Cos., said the mall is close to signing a lease with a tenant for the old 7 Steers.

"We expect to announce a signed lease for that property next week," Lapper said.

Lapper said the mall will announce who the tenant of the new anchor store will be as soon as all planning approvals are in place.

To fit the 125,000-square-foot expansion, the mall plans to reconfigure 35,000 square feet of existing space now occupied by Economy Furniture and add another 105,000 square feet.

The new store will be built between the mall's main entrance -- which is labeled "Bon-Ton" -- and the entrance to the mall's food court, Pittinger told town planners.

Bing Bird's Eye View:

Aviation mall from a satellite in space
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