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The Times
  • Plan to replace Shoppers Square presented to county officials

  • The results of a recent study indicate that the presence of a supermarket on Main Street, Little Falls, has a profound impact on the viability of the city’s downtown commercial district.

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  • The results of a recent study indicate that the presence of a supermarket on Main Street, Little Falls, has a profound impact on the viability of the city’s downtown commercial district.
    To preserve that presence, the members of an ad hoc organization of residents, as well as other stakeholders in the cultural and commercial life of the city, have proposed a plan to replace the shopping mall located in the heart of the downtown commercial district with a multi-use structure that would include an underground parking garage, retail and office space and residential apartments.
    The study, “The Economic Impact of the Big M Supermarket,” and the plan to rebuild on the Shoppers Square site were presented to the county Industrial Development Agency Thursday.
    And board members indicated that the proposal might be a project worth pursing, should the ad hoc organization’s members reach an agreement with the shopping center’s owner.
    “It should be clear to even the casual observer that if the downtown supermarket were to close, the loss of the collateral economic activity associated with the facility could have a potentially devastating economic impact on the downtown commercial district in Little Falls,” said David Van Meter, who authored the Main Street First study with his wife, Christine. “Quite simply, a supermarket is one of the key economic anchors of commerce in downtown Little Falls.”
    The survey that the study is based on found that the average Big M shopper is between the ages of 21 and 49 and lives within the confines of the city. While the average shopper drives to the store, the survey indicated 17.55 percent of shoppers, or 128 people per day, walk to the supermarket.
    The majority of trips to the Big M are related to convenience needs, as the survey found 64.36 percent of the store’s customers visit the supermarket more than once a week. The survey also found that nearly half, or 48.40 percent, of the 727 daily visitors to the Big M engage in other shopping or commercial activities in downtown Little Falls. On average, the Big M shopper plans to spend $35.04 on his or her trip downtown, which according to the study translates into $25,462 per day spent in downtown Little Falls, or $178,234 per week, and $9,293,630 per year.
    “The bottom line for citizens and policy makers alike to understand is that the presence of a downtown supermarket is associated with the generation of approximately 265,000 shopping visits per year in downtown Little Falls, and about half of these shoppers plan to do business in one or more other down establishments in conjunction with their grocery shopping trip,” said Van Meter. “It is vital that policy makers fully understand the extent to which a supermarket serves as an anchor of the downtown business district, and that if the Big M fails as a result of the quarry project there will be a very real and all too predictable ripple effect of lost sales, closed business and lost jobs.”
    Page 2 of 2 - The quarry project is a commercial development that has been proposed by Sphere Development and would bring a two-store shopping center, with the potential to add two more stores, to a city-owned site at the intersection of Routes 5 and 167. The county, city and school district have already agreed in principal to commit future tax revenues to bring the shopping center to Little Falls, and earlier this week, the county legislature’s Ways and Means Committee voted to authorize the IDA to make available $1.79 million in stimulus loan funds to the project.
    IDA Executive Director Mark Feane said were the Main Street First plan to move forward, the agency would be willing to discuss such things as extending payment in lieu of taxes agreements and loan moneys to the project. “We are not going to stand in the way of development,” he said, adding that the developer would have to approach the taxing jurisdictions about receiving PILOT benefits.
    David Dardzinski, a pre-construction consultant, developed the plan to replace Shoppers Square with a 180,000 square foot multi-use facility, and said it would it cost 10 to 12 percent less to construct than the quarry project, as the infrastructure already is in existence at the site.
    “The hang-up at this point is the $400,000 needed for soft costs such as engineering and architectural designs, but there is grant money available,” he said, adding that he and other members of Main Street First have scheduled a meeting with the ownership of Shoppers Square. “We are ready to move forward with this project, and will act in that manner during that meeting.”
    “The fact that someone wants to do something downtown is great,” said IDA Chairman John Piseck. “We would be interested in hearing more about the project once a developer is on board.”
    “It’s great to see that someone wants to do something to improve the Main Street district,” said IDA board member Richard Collins. “This project has potential, should it get off the ground.”
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