Summit Park Mall -- once the largest shopping center in Niagara County and now largely vacant -- has been purchased by a Canadian investor who has pledged to undertake a massive renovation.
Zoran Cocov, through his Toronto-based Zoral Investments Inc., has acquired the 800,000-square-foot Wheatfield facility, paying $4.2 million to buy it from Oberlin Plaza One LLC. Oberlin filed for Chapter 11 protection in 2009.
Cocov admits his revitalization plan for the mall is ambitious.
"My goal is to make it a shopping destination," he said. "One that will make people drive one hour or an hour and half to get here."
But, before Cocov gets there, there is a lot of work to be done. A trio of stores -- Sears, Bon-Ton and Save-A-Lot -- remain open. But the bulk of the mall is empty and has been gutted by vandals. Virtually all the cooper wiring has been stolen, floors have been heavily damaged, and walls have been tarred with spray paint.
The main power transformers have long since been removed. Sears, Bon-Ton and Save-A-Lot have their own separate transformers and power sources.
"Now, the work begins," he said.
Cocov said he will be conducting a power study while working with National Grid to have new transformers installed. That should take anywhere from six months to eight months.
"Then, I've got to really take a look at all the vandalism," Cocov said.
Issues aside, Cocov said he is excited about the mall's future.
"It will be a successful shopping center, but right now, there are challenges," he said. "In spite of today's grim picture, I am determined to make this a success."
Cocov began his negotiations for the property more than two years ago. Cocov worked closely with Dorothy Stahlnecker and Gunner Tronolone from MJ Peterson Real Estate's commercial division to close the deal.
At the same time, another Canadian real estate investment group, BGS Homes Inc. of Vaughn, put the mall under contract, but the deal was pulled for a number of reasons. Cocov has no connection to BGS Homes.
Cocov made headlines in Niagara Falls, Ont. when he was part of an investment group that proposed the ambitious CrossLink Bridge project. CrossLink, set for the city's CN Rail Yards not far from Whirlpool Bridge, entailed a new cross-border bridge between Niagara Falls, Ont. and Niagara Falls, N.Y., along with plans for more than 500,000 square feet of retail space and another 1.5 million square feet of commercial space. CrossLink failed to gain the international approvals needed for the bridge or other development approvals in Niagara Falls, Ont.
Cocov's development holdings include residential projects in Oshawa and downtown Toronto.
But, now he said his primary development focus will be bringing Summit Park Mall back to life.
"I know everyone would love to see a quick turnaround, but this is going to take a long time," Cocov said.