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$3.5M overhaul complete at Crosstown Commons

$3.5M overhaul complete at Crosstown Commons

Route 7 shopping center is 83 percent full, benefits from increased visibility
$3.5M overhaul complete at Crosstown Commons
outside Crosstown Commons in Schenectady on Thursday, June 14, 2018.
Photographer: John Cropley

SCHENECTADY — The old Crosstown Plaza has a new name and a new look, thanks to a new owner who hopes to fill it with some new tenants.

A $3.5 million renovation is complete at the largest shopping plaza in Schenectady, and it has been renamed Crosstown Commons. By square footage, it’s 83 percent occupied, though more than half of the storefronts are vacant.

That’s because all four of established anchor tenants remain in place, and occupy a lot of space behind the new facade. 

Stephen Mitnick, owner of Florida-based Magellan Realty Partners, which acquired the shopping center in 2017, said he expects to fill the vacant space in the second half of this year. Crosstown totals 210,000 square feet, not including the nearby 10,000-square-foot United Buffet that Magellan also owns. Only 30,000 square feet is vacant, not counting the 6,000 square feet that has been leased to but not yet occupied by a dialysis clinic.

The vacant area is divided into several smaller stores and two large spaces, 10,000 square feet each, that likely will be subdivided for tenants who don’t need so much space. (As with most retail markets, there are more potential small tenants than large in the Capital Region.) 

Crosstown has been and will continue to be a value-oriented shopping destination where people can find things they want or need for day-to-day-life, often at bargain prices, Mitnick said. Three of the anchors — Ocean State, Price Rite and Grossman’s — feature discounted goods.

It’s a niche that holds up well in all economic cycles, Mitnick said, and fares better than other brick-and-mortar retail models against e-commerce competition. And it’s working well here: The Ocean State, Price Rite and Grossman’s stores are among the top-performing locations for those companies. The fourth anchor, Best Fitness, also is buzzing: More than 300 members came through the door in the first five hours it was open Thursday, before Mitnick spoke to The Gazette outside.

So what did Magellan get for $10.7 million? A tired-looking circa-1978 shopping plaza with acres of cratered parking and a whopping 1,500 feet of frontage on Route 7, one of the busiest roads in the area. A 2009 state traffic count found that 46,000 vehicles a day pass by Crosstown Plaza on Route 7 and roughly as many on Interstate 890.

“You can’t buy this stuff anymore, because it doesn’t exist,” Mitnick said of the low facade that stretches so far that the west end crosses into Rotterdam. “You can’t get something with a quarter mile or more of frontage.”

The parking lot alone cost $300,000 to resurface and repaint. But the much larger expense was getting rid of the 15-foot wide vestibule that ran more than 600 feet along the front of the strip of stores. It looked bad, reduced retailers’ visibility, limited shopper access points, and ran up heating, cooling and cleaning costs.

“That was dated when it was built,” Mitnick said. “You don’t do that.”

The exterior is now paneled in a concrete-fiber composite material, some of it a realistic-looking wood grain. Low-intensity eye-level LED lights illuminate the sidewalk and high-intensity LEDs on poles light the parking lot.

Cosmetic touches both major (storefronts now have flush-mounted glass walls) and minor (the doors have full-length vertical handles) round out the overhaul.

Magellan has specialized in similar projects since Mitnick founded it in 2001. It acquires existing properties that are underutilized and priced well below replacement construction cost, then revitalizes them and fills them with tenants. 

Many of its projects are in Pennsylvania, though it has one other in the Capital Region — the former Troy Plaza on Route 7 — that was similar to Crosstown.

It was 71 percent occupied when Magellan acquired it for $3.9 million in 2012. After renovations it is 100 percent occupied and its total tenant workforce has grown by 75 people. Mitnick puts its value at $16 million.

This model creates jobs and avoids the environmental impact of new construction, he added. “It’s really a moral imperative for me as part of what I do.”

He expects Crosstown to be worth $20 million when it is finished and full.

The Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority assisted Magellan on the project, particularly with navigating regulatory processes, though it did not provide financial assistance. 

After Crosstown changed hands, several tenants moved out on their own or were evicted for nonpayment of rent. Helping refill the space is Alex Kutikov of RedMark Realty, who brokered the 2017 sale of the plaza by the Lupe family and is now marketing it to tenants. 

Mitnick is hoping some quick-casual food options will be among them, to expand the dining options beyond the existing buffet and Chinese kitchen.

The next phase calls for a 7,000-square-foot, $1.4 million freestanding building along the south side of the property, right along Route 7. That will be marketed to national retailers looking for a high-visibility, high-traffic location, Mitnick said. 

Most of the small trees and low vegetation already have been removed along the Route 7 fenceline to make Crosstown Commons more visible to passing motorists.

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