October 2015 20 Questions: On Leadership

On leadership

Lessons and advice from north country leaders

Since NNY Business began publishing monthly in December 2010, we have featured a wide-ranging, in-depth interview with a different north country business or leader 11 times a year, skipping December for our 20 Under 40 emerging leaders issue. Our 54 featured interviews to date have not been limited to the for-profit sector. We’ve sat down with nonprofit and not-for-profit leaders, and educational and health care leaders. The 20 questions that follow are the best of leadership from nearly five years of interviews. [Read more…]

Developer buys former Blockbuster building, expects to lure brand-name retailer

WATERTOWN — Alexandria Bay developer Patrick M. Donegan has purchased the former Blockbuster building on Arsenal Street, where he hopes a brand-name retailer will be open for business by the end of this year.

That’s just part of his plan for area properties. He also wants to attract a big-box retailer to Watertown City Center, but he’ll need the city to build a connector road to do it.

VDI Properties LLC of Alexandria Bay, owned by Mr. Donegan, bought the former Blockbuster property at 1240 Arsenal St. for $1.3 million from Aerco LLC of Vista Valley, Calif., according to Jefferson County property sales recorded Tuesday.

“I saw it as an opportunity to pick up a troubled piece of property and maybe develop it into something newer and nicer,” said Mr. Donegan, who developed the series of hotels, restaurants and retail shops off Arsenal Street at the Watertown City Center. “It would be a brand-name outfit, and I have a couple of different leads I’m pursuing. I’m talking with a national and a regional retailer.”

Mr. Donegan said Thursday he is optimistic that a tenant could move in by the end of the year, but he said that will depend on how long it takes a project to be approved by the city.

Blockbuster moved out of the building in April 2013. A seasonal retailer, Spirit Halloween, was located there in September and October of last year.

Mr. Donegan said the spot is particularly attractive for brand-name retailers. “Arsenal Street is where all of the brand-name stuff is, and they like to be next to each other,” he said.

Bringing a store to the Blockbuster site could be less challenging for Mr. Donegan — who leads projects statewide and across the country — than readying the 18-acre lot at the back of the Watertown City Center, near the Hilton Garden Inn, for a big-box tenant. That plan will hinge on whether the city will build a connector road through the Stateway Plaza parking lot to Gaffney Drive at the northern end. Mr. Donegan said his purchase of the former Blockbuster site won’t have any impact on plans for the proposed road.

Last fall, members of City Council balked after Mr. Donegan urged the city to build the connector road because they said they were concerned about the cost. Council members have said they believe the project probably would require eminent domain proceedings because the plaza owners have declined to sell a needed strip of land for the project.

Mr. Donegan said he has been frustrated with the city’s inability to move forward with the project.

“Last summer, I told them I had all these people looking at it and it didn’t move faster — they move at their own pace,” he said. “A big-box store would bring in 60 to 100 million dollars in annual sales and generate a considerable amount of sales tax revenue. People should be paying more attention to retail projects because they generate the revenue we need. I think they reserve too much of their attention to other things.”

City Councilwoman Teresa R. Macaluso said she and Councilman Joseph M. Butler Jr., who have expressed reservations about the cost of acquiring the plaza land by eminent domain, met with Mr. Donegan to discuss his plans in December.

She said Mr. Donegan discussed a plan to develop a shorter connector road that would extend only to the big-box retail site near the Hilton Garden Inn, rather than extending to Gaffney Drive. She said that while she was receptive to that idea, which would significantly scale back the estimated $1.75 million construction cost of the original proposal, there could be some difficulties.

“He needs to extend the road maybe a quarter-mile to the site,” Ms. Macaluso said. “It would cost a lot less than the original proposal on the budget. If he needs to move more urgently and can’t wait for the rest of the road to be put in, I would support him putting in the road to the parcel he wants to sell. I don’t want to stand in his way if he has someone who wants to develop that land and will generate revenue for the city.”

Even so, she said, she remains concerned that legal fees to resolve the eminent domain proceeding with plaza owners could be too expensive.

Mr. Donegan said he continues to be in talks with multiple national retailers who have expressed interest in the site. He said one of them will visit in February.

Persuading a national tenant to commit to the site could help spur the city to build the connector road, Mr. Donegan said. But he said that big retailers often want to get projects done quickly, and they might not be willing to wait long enough for the road to be built.

“If these guys come in February and want to commit to a deal, they would want to break ground late this year or in the spring of 2016,” he said. “I’m worried that if I do sign up these guys, the city isn’t going to be able to keep up fast enough to make it happen. … Private sector people move faster than public people.”

Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham did not return a call Thursday seeking comment.



By Ted Booker, Times Staff Writer