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Wachs defends decision to challenge assessment on Harte Haven

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MASSENA - It’s been a tough 25-plus years for Michael Wachs, who owns the Harte Haven Shopping Center.

And while the plaza is doing well now, Mr. Wachs said that is the result of a lot of hard work and a large financial investment.

He was responding to criticism lodged by Massena Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray on his company’s decision to challenge the assessment on the shopping center.

“I think that Mr. Gray, with all due respect, is miscategorizing our company,” Mr. Wachs said, referring to Mr. Gray’s characterizing the Harte Haven Shopping Center a multi-million dollar company.

“I’m sitting here at my desk in a white T-shirt and jeans,” he said.

Since purchasing the plaza more than 25 years ago, Mr. Wachs said he’s seen some pretty tough times.

“It has been an incredibly difficult period of time,” he said. “But through it all we have always conducted ourselves in the most professional manner possible, and we have tried, as difficult as it has been this past 25-plus years, to maintain relevance for shoppers and retailers in our consumer base.”

Mr. Wachs said it was shortly after he purchased the plaza that St. Lawrence Centre mall opened.

“Soon after we purchased the shopping center, the mall was built and when that took place it was as if a tsunami came across the Atlantic and into the Pacific. When it settled, it was as if it took everything with it,” he said. “Despite every obstacle, we prided ourselves on being stewards of the asset and proud partners in the Massena community.”

Massena Assessor Michael Ward said the plaza was assessed in 2010 for $4,208,750. The property’s assessment was then increased to $5,115,560 in 2011 following the sale of the St. Lawrence Plaza.

“We had a sale and whenever there is a sale that’s an indicator of value,” he said. “They don’t even want to go back to their original assessment though; they want to go down to $2 million.”

With the success Harte Haven has had in recent years, with TJ Maxx moving from the mall to the shopping center, Game Stop moving in and the opening of Vino Vidi Vici, Mr. Ward said he’s actually considered increasing the plaza’s assessment.

“I seriously considered increasing it when the restaurant opened up and they got more stores, but we left it alone,” he said.

When it comes to whether or not the plaza’s assessed value will decrease, Mr. Ward said he feels like the town is standing on solid ground and has a strong case for not reducing Harte Haven’s assessment.

“I think he’s just hoping we’ll settle,” Mr. Ward said. “I can’t speak for the town board, but I can tell you we don’t have to negotiate.”

While Mr. Wachs doesn’t deny the plaza is doing well, he said the plaza’s recent success has cost him and his partners a lot of money.

“These tenants aren’t just happening,” he said. “There were large capital investments we had to make, and that money did not come from the government.”

Mr. Wachs said he’s hoping the success at Harte Haven will be contagious.

“Hopefully other companies, and not just retailers, will see this positive energy and plant their roots into the community like we have. Then Mr. Gray can look to other sources besides those who have battled back from the precipice of nonexistence to generate so much-needed additional revenue from the tax base,” he said.

Mr. Ward also noted the owners of the St. Lawrence Plaza are currently challenging their assessment.

He noted that plaza, which includes Hannaford’s, Office Max, East Wok and a laundromat, was assessed for $7,700,000 in 2009.

That assessment, he said, was based on the sale of the plaza in 2008 for $7,761,225.

In 2010 though, the plaza’s assessment was dropped to $5,094,725, after it was discovered the plaza’s sale price also included BJ’s Wholesale Club, a separate property with a different assessment.

“We felt when we negotiated with them last time they had a valid argument,” Mr. Ward said, adding now the plaza’s owners are back seeking yet another assessment reduction.

“We just settled with these guys a couple years ago and now they’re already back,” he said.

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