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Shoppingtown Mall in Dewitt to be made into housing, retail space and more

The nightmare that has been the slow decline of Shoppingtown Mall in Dewitt could be over. County officials have agreed to sell the vacant mall to a company made up of local development leaders.

In the shadow of vacant storefronts in an empty mall, Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon announced Wednesday that a venture group called OHB Redev LLC has been selected to purchase and develop the 65 acres that includes what once was Shoppingtown Mall. It will be called District East.

"This project will turn this property into five distinct, but blended districts, that include residential housing, entertainment, restaurants and hospitality, retail and office space," McMahon said.

It’s been a long time coming. The mall had dwindled from its heyday into a giant, empty, hulking presence in the middle of the Town of Dewitt. For a decade, a company called Moonbeam promised to redevelop it, and when it was clear that wasn’t going to happen, Onondaga County took possession. And after that experience, McMahon admitted the fact this group is local, was an important factor when choosing a developer.

"We’ve gone through a nightmare with this property, watching really one of the most unique properties in one of our more affluent communities, just sit here and rot," McMahon said. "So we didn’t want to award to another company that wasn’t vested or committed here, based on sale price.”

OHB Redev partners include local architects and builders, as well as Housing Visions, a not-for-profit developer. Lead partner Ryan Benz said this project is all about the future in Central New York, evidenced by its name.

"OHB is my son’s initials. Oliver Hudson Benz. I never told my partners that. But that’s the investment that we're making. It’s generational," said Benz.

Renderings show residential towers mixed in with retail areas, connected by atriums and surrounded by green spaces. the housing component will include affordable housing and Senior Living. Benz won't put a timeline on the project, but said at least half of the mall structure will come down, but parts will stay.

"The bones are fantastic. This is a relatively young property," he said. "You have a parking deck that has the majority of its useful life ahead of it. You have the bones of a theater that can easily be readapted."

Dewitt Town Supervisor Ed Michalenko said it fits right in with other projects the town is taking to create a town center.

“We often site the village of Cazenovia or the village of Skaneateles and there’s a clear identifiable center," Michalenko said. "In Dewitt, we’ve lacked that. So yes, that’s the goal of our zoning goal and comprehensive plan, is to bring that kind of development back.'

The first step will be negotiating particulars of the $8 million dollar sale price, that includes tax breaks offered by the county in the form of Payment in Lieu of Taxes or PILOT deals.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.