VICTOR, N.Y. (WROC) — Following multiple rounds of legal action and appeals, the town of Victor held a public meeting Monday evening on their plans to acquire the empty Lord & Taylor space in Eastview Mall, using “eminent domain.”
“Eminent domain” is the power of a government to take over land for public use. The town would condemn the space, and its 8-acre parcel, and then take it over.
“On March 13, 2023, the town upon consideration of Wilmorite’s request, authorized the commencement of condemnation proceedings under the EDPL,” Town Supervisor of Victor Jack Marren said during the meeting. EDPL refers to a town’s use of eminent domain. “(We are) holding a public hearing in order to consider the acquisition of the parcel in connection to the redevelopment project.”
The 90,000-square-foot “anchor store” — not to mention its approximately 1,000 empty parking spots — remains unoccupied. It has been vacant since February 2021, after Lord & Taylor had filed for bankruptcy the August prior.
This isn’t the first time the town has tried to make legal claim to the property, owned by Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC).
In December, the NY Court of Appeals ruled that the town of Victor would not be able to condemn and repurpose the empty Lord & Taylor store. The judges noting that the town did not offer specific enough plans to justify use of eminent domain.
Now, it seems, the town is trying again. This time, the town outlined plans to use a portion of the property and indicated Wilmorite is on the verge of securing new tenants for the space, with significant tax dollars on the line.
During Monday’s public meeting, Marren unveiled the plans for space, adding that this process was at the request of Wilmorite, the developer of the mall.
“The town is confident that the redevelopment project proposed by Wilmorite will serve the public interest,” Marren said.
Marren’s biggest priority is to revitalize the back of the mall, saying the front of the mall is carrying the property.
He says that not only is the town losing tax revenue from the lack of sales there, but the empty space is an eyesore and is preventing more tenants from coming into the town, and Marren says tenants are leaving because of it. It also is one less employer in the town.
Both Wilmorite and Marren have expressed displeasure at the lack of communication from Hudson’s Bay Company. Marren claims that HBC has multiple empty Lord & Taylor storefronts across the country.
“It appears that HBC has been unmotivated or unsuccessful or a combination of both,” Marren said. “For whatever reason, HBC has not found a new tenant for the parcel.”
A lawyer, Greg Rodgers, on behalf of HBC spoke during the meeting, saying:
“We at Hudson’s Bay are in the throngs of 2021, where the world slowed to a screeching halt. 34 locations that we closed in 2021 are to re-tenant, re-occupy, and redevelop,” he said, adding they are maintaining the building to make it marketable for new tenants. “For this property, we don’t want ‘a’ tenant, we want the right tenant.”
Another attorney for HBC, Craig Leslie, also commented:
“This is not the first time the town board, respectfully, ignored the efforts of my client to re-tenant and redevelop the space,” he said, referring to the previous eminent domain attempt referenced in the 2022 decision.
“You’re taking the property from one private owner to another that you favor,” Leslie alleged later in the meeting, referring to taking the property from HBC to give to Wilmorite for redevelopment.
HBC’s attorneys, pointed out in the meeting that the previous appellate ruling already determined the town has to pay for HBC’s attorney’s costs and fees, and that an application is out to the order of nearly $120,000 for costs and fees. They suggested the town is doing the same thing all over again.
Here is how the town and Wilmorite proposed splitting the space:
- 50,000 sq. ft. for an environmentally friendly home goods and clothing retailer in “advanced negotiations”
- Marren claims this tenant was also proposed by Wilmorite to HBC
- 32,000 sq. ft. leased a family-owned grocery
- A letter of intent has been signed by Wilmorite, according to Marren
- 11,00 sq. f.t municipal space for Victor
- Would take the remaining space
- Needs a vote from the town board to determine how it can be used
- Potential options include a business incubator, a rec center space, more
As part of the new proposed development plan, additional improvements will be made to the parking lots.
Leslie argued while the town says they would dedicate part of the space for municipal use, it is still unspecified, which is the same reason the first judge ruled against the town.
John Dower, the senior VP and Director of Leasing for Wilmorite, also spoke at the meeting, and said that this Lord & Taylor was “low on the priority list” for HBC.
Neither Marren, Wilmorite, or Hudson’s Bay Company (parent company to Lord & Taylor, and the owner of the empty parcel) have returned requests for additional comment.