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Friday, February 27, 2015 at 11:10 am

Water main break on east side of City Centre

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, city centre, infrastructure

There is a water main break outside City Center on the east side of the mall.

Businesses on the east side are impacted.

Water department crews are on scene.

UPDATE 12:55 p.m.: Repairs are completed and service is restored.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015 at 1:42 pm

City, mall merchants appear ready for mediation on long-simmer disputes

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, city centre, mall merchants association

So far, attorneys have been paid a combined $207,000 for the City of Batavia and the Mall Merchants Association to battle in court over who is responsible for what in the rapidly deteriorating structure.

There's a chance now the case may go to mediation, the City Council was informed Monday night.

After losing a motion for a summary judgement, City Manager Jason Molino said the MMA is willing to submit to mediation. 

A final agreement on mediation has not be completed.

The city and MMA have locked horns over responsibility for concourse maintenance, major repairs, ownership and governance.

In 2009, the MMA filed suit against the city.

Since then, the city has spent $104,199 on legal fees, while the suit has cost the mall merchants $103,317, according to Molino's memo.

"A thriving and healthy City Centre is critical to the City's downtown revitalization, and the City is very interested in an overall resolution that will best support long-term and prosperous solutions for all parties involved," Molino wrote.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015 at 7:32 pm

Council meeting features discussion on downtown mall frustrations

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, city centre, downtown, genesee country mall, mall

There was a degree of frustration on all sides in council chambers Monday night over the long-simmering dispute over the state of the downtown mall after a resident raised the issue during public comments.

Some council members initially joined in the call of Richard Richmond to have the state's comptroller's office audit the city's legal fees associated with the city's dispute and the current lawsuit with the Mall Merchants Association.

Molino noted, however, that the city was audited last year and no irregularities related to legal bills were found.

He also asked what the goal of such an audit would be. The legal fees are public record and have been released before.

Richmond said he would like to see an itemized list of attorney fees for the mall, even suggesting audio go back six years to check for any inadvertent double billing.

The city's financial statements are scrutinized every year by an independent accountant, Molino told the council, and "they report any fraud or inconsistencies."

There have been no such reports.

Last year, resident John Roach issued a public records request and received documents showing the city's legal fees related to mall litigation, but some material was redacted if it could reveal information covered by attorney-client privilege. 

An audit, Molino suggested, would not necessarily uncover the kind of information perhaps some think it might.

"The comptroller is not going to provide you with guidance on what you pay for what services," Molino said. "They're not going to come in and tell you you're paying too much for police services, you're paying too much for fire services or you're paying too much for this."

Council members such as John Deleo expressed concern about how much was being spent on mall litigation and compared the years-long conflict with the mall association to a messy divorce that has gone on too long.

More than just the legal fees, perhaps, Deleo said, "people are concerned about the mall and the 57 buckets and how long does this divorce will go on."

After the meeting, Molino hinted at his own frustration with five or six years of disputes over the mall, but also expressed hope that a once-and-for-all solution can be reached during legal negotiations.

The condition of the mall and the disputes over the mall create a perception problem, Molino said, that could hold back redevelopment and brownfield development.

"It does not help the long-term success of the city nor the long-term success of the businesses and the redevelopment potential downtown, so, yes, it does hurt," Molino said. "It hurts everybody. I think everybody's business involved is going to benefit when it's resolved, and the city as a whole, and the community, will be able to get through this, and I hope it's a milestone that we can get past and say we were able to get past that hurdle."

There is an openness, Molino believes, to finding a solution to the disputes that led to the lawsuit, the involves negotiation and not further litigation.

"I think both parties want to resolve this issue and it's just a matter of coming together to find common ground that is going to meet everybody's needs," Molino said.

Friday, January 2, 2015 at 8:04 pm

Mall association claims centennial celebration trespassed on concourse

The New Year's Eve party at City Centre to celebrate Batavia's centennial has given rise to a new point of contention between the city and the Mall Merchants Association.

While there is a long simmering dispute over who is responsible for a troubled roof and other repairs to the structure, and with a city-filed lawsuit pending over alleged unpaid rents, Mall Director Madeline Bialkwoski says you can now add "trespass" the the association's list of complaints.

Prior to Wednesday's event, Bialkowski sent a letter to City Manager Jason Molino that said as far as the association was concerned, using a portion of the mall concourse for a dance floor and photo studio was never authorized by the association.

"Therefore, we are once again letting you know that you do not have permission to use our insured and leased concoure space for your New Year's Eve Celebration and respectfully request that the City gate remains closed and locked," Bialkowski wrote to Molino.

Reached at his office this afternoon, Molino said, "We own the mall."

Asked if that isn't a bit like a landlord saying "I'm going to use your house for a party," Molino said there's a difference between a residential property and a commercial property. The city owns the space and therefore doesn't need the permission of the merchants to use it.

Bialkowkski said the association's big concern is over its insurance. She said the association's policy, like most mall policies the past few years, forbids the consumption of alcohol in the concourse.

"It voids our insurance," she said. She's concerned, she said, that now that the party has taken place, what the ramifications might be for the association's policy.

Molino said the city had insurance to cover the event.

"We had everything we needed in place," Molino said.

The event included a cash bar in the second floor community room and partygoers were free to carry drinks, if they wished, into the portion of the concourse being used for the party.

Bialkowski thinks the conflict could have been resolved if the organizers had been willing to put up signs and station one or two people in the stairway to ensure drinks were not carried down stairs.

"There justification is that they had insurance," Bialkowski said. "A million dollar policy with an additional insured is nothing in today's atmosphere."

Bialkowski said she first alerted Vibrant Batavia to the potential problem as far back as August and raised concerns then.

Leanna Di Risio, of Vibrant Batavia and a member of the Centennial Committee, wrote a letter to Bialkowski on Nov. 7 outlining celebration plans and requesting the mall association's support of the celebration.

The association's operating committee voted Dec. 4 to deny the committee permission for use of the space. (Dec. 4 is a late date for such a decision, Bialkowski admits, but said the committee couldn't meet in November because of travel and vacations of members).

The city has filed a suit against the merchants claiming the association owes more than $800,000 in back rent for the concourse.

As for the claim of trespass, Molino said, "The mall merchants are just being obstructionists."

Bialkowski said she realizes she could have called the police on the trespass complaint, but felt that would just be unfair to any officer who responded, putting the officer in awkward position.

"No one here wanted to ruin the event," Bialkowski said.

Friday, July 18, 2014 at 1:07 pm

City announces refinancing of City Centre loan

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, city centre

Press release:

On Wednesday July 16th the City refunded (refinanced) the current City Centre debt service. This effort refinanced approximately $4,050,000 of general obligation bonds that financed the construction of the City Centre in 2004.

These bonds were issued by USDA Rural Development, and at the time were considered low interest at 4 percent. However, much like refinancing your own home mortgage, refinancing the City's outstanding bonds will reduce the interest paid over the life of the loan. The refunding was approved by City Council on April 8, 2013, and the City along with its financial advisors, Municipal Solutions, Inc., have been monitoring bond market rates for over the past year to find the time when market rates would be at their lowest level to maximize the savings to the City's taxpayers.

Interest rates on municipal bonds are very favorable at this time and the savings realized by refunding the outstanding bonds now resulted in more than $73,000 in increased budgetary savings compared to rates that were presented to City Council one year ago. In total, this refunding has saved the City approximately $303,000 in interest payments during the remaining 21-year life of the reissued bond, ending in 2036.

Monday, April 21, 2014 at 9:18 am

City claims mall merchants owe $805,000 in past due rent

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, city centre

Via WBTA:

The City of Batavia is suing the Genesee County Mall Merchants Association for $805,000.
Court papers just filed and obtained by WBTA show the city has filed a complaint against the mall association for past due rent. The city also wants the lease for the mall concourse to be terminated.
The city claims the Mall Association has not paid fair market rent for the mall concourse since April of 2000.

The bad blood between the city and the mall association goes back years.

The mall has claimed that since the city owns the concourse, it is responsible to replace the roof and make other improvements.

The city says that the lease clearly states the mall is responsible for the maintenance of the roof and other public areas.

City Manager Jason Molino, reluctant to talk about details of the latest legal salvo, says he is hopeful the situation can be resolved:

"Hopefully, we will be able to have a permanent resolution to a decade-long conflict that will ultimately contribute to the community."

City Council President Brooks Hawley issued a prepared statement declining comment on the latest legal action while it is pending litigation:

"In the course of defending the City's interests in the case, certain information has become available resulting in the City to pursuing a claim against the Merchants Association. To the extent that this is pending litigation, it would be inappropriate to comment any further."

The Mall Association has been leasing the concourse from the city for $1 a year plus the maintenance costs. The city contends the mall has not kept up with repairs and maintenance equal to the fair market rent.

 

Monday, June 11, 2012 at 10:38 pm

Photos: Hosta planting downtown, next to City Centre

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, city centre, downtown, Gardening

Two flower beds that in recent years haven't looked like much got a hosta makeover by city staff Monday afternoon.

City Manager Jason Molino, himself an avid gardener, organized the effort and convinced several local businesses, including Genesee Dental, Hawley Insurance, the Bank of Castile and WBTA, to pay for the hostas.

City staff from several different departments turned out today and got the 21 plants in the ground in about 30 minutes.

The plants were selected by Molino, who also drew up the plans on where each should be planted, and purchased from Pudgie's Lawn and Garden.

Asked, why hostas, Molino said, "Partially, because I’m a big fan of hostas myself. Hostas don’t need a lot of care. They’re pretty hardy. They’re a good no-brainer in terms of maintenance and something that will come back every year. As they come back and fill out more, you’ll see more and more the hostas themselves and less of the dirt."

Photos: Above, Molino and Sally Kuzon. Below, Sgt. John Peck, Batavia PD, and bottom photo, most of the staff (and Sgt. Peck's wife) who participated in the planting.

Friday, September 2, 2011 at 7:06 pm

Photo: 9/11 display at City Centre

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, 9/11, city centre

This is the Remembering 9/11 display set up at City Centre by the NYS Museum, one of several 9/11 artifact displays set up in various municipalities throughout New York.  The car is an unmarked NYC Port Authority sedan that was found under the rubble of the Twin Towers. The display is outside the mall-side entrance to Batavia City Hall.

Saturday, February 26, 2011 at 5:28 pm

Zumba dancers fill City Centre with Latin flavor

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, city centre, Genesee Cancer Assistance

The City Centre was packed with Zumba dancers this afternoon as part of a "Party of Hope" to raise money for Genesee Cancer Assistance.

Zumba is a fusion of Latin beats, international music and fitness dance moves.

Dancers donated money to participate.

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