OLEAN — The new owner of Olean Center Mall is planning an $18.5 million senior housing and renovation project at the aging downtown site.
The Olean Common Council on Tuesday gave support to a $2 million state grant application by the new owner of the mall, who is looking for assistance for the project expected to hold 60 housing units dedicated to senior citizens in a new addition, while also renovating the existing mall area.
“The project entails demolishing the Bon-Ton building, and that would make room for the 60-unit senior living high-rise,” said Keri Kerper, coordinator of the city’s Department of Community Development.
Kerper is helping to write the application to Empire State Development on behalf of Olean Town Centre, LLC, led by developer Angelo Ingrassia of Rochester.
The proposed four-story structure on the site would have commercial space on the ground floor and three floors of senior housing, Kerper said. No renderings of what the structure would look like were ready by Tuesday. Supporting efforts in the mall to renovate interior spaces are aimed at assisting tenants such as anchor stores J.C. Penney Co. and Kohls, she said.
DePaul, a Rochester-based housing nonprofit, will be seeking a separate application for the housing component of the project, Kerper added.
Council members were cautiously optimistic about the development.
“It’s great to see it in new hands,” said council President John Crawford, D-Ward 5, but he offered concerns over losing population in neighborhoods in favor of downtown apartments. “I hope we have our eyes open.”
Crawford also noted concern over the potential loss of property tax revenue if the site changes status due to a nonprofit being involved or if it receives a tax exemption.
Kerper said the city had previously identified senior housing as a necessity, even presenting it to Zamias Group as an option for the mall before the firm sold the property.
Mayor Bill Aiello noted that the mall “is slowly going down,” and he welcomed development at the site, but echoed Crawford’s concerns.
Olean Town Centre purchased the mall from Zamias on Dec. 4. According to Cattaraugus County Office of Real Property Services records, the sale price was $5.99 million. As of Tuesday, the mall hosted two anchor stores, nine storefront locations, a kiosk and one occupied outparcel.
The development is similar to efforts Ingrassia has led at Skyview on the Ridge in Irondequoit, formerly the Irondequoit Mall.
That mall had faced a string of closings, vacancies and ownership changes since it opened in 1990. By 2008, every store had closed and the building sat abandoned until a sheriff’s auction in 2016.
Several large projects at the site are under development. A new senior housing project on the site drew more than 1,000 applicants for a lottery this summer, Kerper said, and it is at 100% occupancy. Construction of a $9.5 million community center, funded primarily by a $7.25 million town bond approved by a public referendum, began in January 2020.
Town of Irondequoit officials announced this winter the work will be completed by late summer.
The Olean Center Mall opened in August 1977, employing nearly 1,000 people. The mall was once one of the crowning achievements of the major urban renewal push of the 1970s to clear dilapidated structures and improve the vibrancy of the area on “the wrong side of the tracks,” but the venture fell on hard times in less than two decades.
In the early 1990s, the mall lost several large tenants to the then up-and-coming West End area, such as the movie theater, Ponderosa and McDonald’s, while Ames — which had bought the Hills department store chain — closed in the early 2000s.
The move of J.C. Penney Co. to an anchor location at the mall in 2006 was touted as the beginning of a renewal for the mall, but the Great Recession led to the loss of several more stores. Occupancy took several hits between 2017 and 2020 — while some closings were directly related to lagging mall traffic, others were the result of chains declaring bankruptcy.
Of the tenants of the property, two — Renna’s Pizza and Kay Jewelers — are original tenants.