MASSENA - Shoppers and retail stores at the St. Lawrence Centre Mall could eventually be replaced by students, professors and classrooms, according to Mayor James F. Hidy.
Mr. Hidy said he does not want to see the shopping center close. But if the time comes when the mall is no longer viable, he would like it to be replaced with Massenas own community college.
He envisions an educational facility occupying the entire property.
I just think a good community college world benefit the area, he said. Id be sorry to see (the mall) close but Id also be sorry if we as a community didnt get together and do something about it right away.
A community college could also provide Massena with economic benefits, Mr. Hidy said.
It would employ people of the academia world that would have good salaries, he said. Itd be a plus for everyone.
Classes and higher education are not a new concept at the mall. Ogdensburgs now closed Mater Dei College sited a Massena campus at the shopping center in the 1990s. After that shuttered, SUNY Canton operated a satellite campus in the same space for nearly a decade, closing in 2009.
At the time, SUNY Canton President Joseph Kennedy said the rise of online courses caused enrollment at the Massena campus to decline to a point where it didnt make fiscal sense to continue our operations there.
Still, Mr. Hidy said he thought a fully fledged campus, instead of a satellite school, could fill a need for higher education in Massena.
We could foster a whole different way of life here again, he said. Weve got to quit thinking just about industry.
Ronald J. Patnode, mall marketing manager, said he had not heard of the idea and would need to discuss it with Mr. Hidy first. He declined further comment.
On Friday, shoppers continued to browse through longtime retailers like J.C. Penney, The Bon Ton, and Sears, and walked past empty storefronts where Ames, T.J. Maxx and Hacketts used to be.
While the mall has lost tenants such as T.J. Maxx, Waldenbooks, Radio Shack and Rent a Center in the last two years, management continues to actively recruit new businesses to the center. The Mustard Tin speciality shop plans to open in early March, and a newsstand is expected to open in April.
Mr. Patnode said about 40 retailers, vendors and services currently occupy the facility. When it first opened in 1990, mall officials estimated the center could hold about 100 retailers.
The idea needs further exploration, but if you dont search it out, youll never know, Mr. Hidy said.
He suggested retailers could move downtown or to the Harte Haven Shopping Center area if a community college replaced the mall. Harte Haven owner Michael Wachs previously suggested building a new shopping center in the wooded area he owns between Walmart and Grove Street which could hold two to five large stores.
This week, Mr. Wachs said Harte Haven is nearly full. He has fielded phone calls from about a half dozen retailers - some from in town, some from outside the area - he does not have space for in the 54-year-old plaza.
Im sure we can find the space somewhere, Mr. Hidy said. Bring them back downtown.
The mall is on town land, outside of the village where Mr. Hidy presides. Its assessed value is $5,843,750, according to Assessor Michael C. Ward. The adjoining St. Lawrence Centre Arena is assessed at $406,250.
Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray said he wants the mall to continue its effort to attract new anchors. He was open to the community college concept, but would prefer the mall focus right now on improving itself.
Its a challenge they have and I hope theyre rising to the challenge, he said. Lets try to make the mall successful ... Its private property. Its up to the owners as to what they would do.
Jason A. Clark, executive director for the Business Development Corporation for a Greater Massena, deferred comment to mall representatives.
The mall is an active client. We do a lot of work for them, Mr. Clark said. I dont want to speak for them.