By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO The firm chosen to redevelop the former Apollo Mall in Monticello pulled out of negotiations on Monday.
County Legislature Chairman Scott Samuelson said he got the call from Chancellor-Livingston’s Michael Kaplan and Henry Zabatta that morning.
“They said things weren’t going to work out for them,” Samuelson related on Wednesday. “They wanted to part amicably.”
When pressed, Samuelson and Zabatta offered no details.
“We decided to move on,” Zabatta said. “... It was really no specific reason.”
But Chancellor-Livingston had once held deep faith in the resurrection of the Apollo as a shopping destination and had endured more than a year of legal and political hoop-jumping.
Despite frustration at the slow pace of progress, Kaplan and Zabatta continued to invest time and money soliciting retailers and negotiating a deal with the county.
Then, after an internal meeting this month, the company opted to walk away.
Legislator Ira Steingart and County Manager David Fanslau shed a bit of light on Chancellor-Livingston’s departure.
Steingart said there were “numerous reasons,” with a primary one being “the demographic market at this time.”
“It’s been a year and a half” since Chancellor-Livingston initially conducted a demographics study, said Steingart.
And the numbers “haven’t improved,” he added.
Fanslau, who did not speak directly with Zabatta or Kaplan, said he heard “a key partner was no longer interested in the project.”
“I’m disappointed,” confessed Steingart. “I certainly would have loved to have that development there but at the same time, I know it’s a tough sell.”
None of them, however, blamed the county, including a new Legislature that had to take the time to become familiar with the deal their predecessors struck.
“We have a really good relationship with the new county administration,” said Zabatta, who agreed the parting was amicable. “The legislators have been wonderful.”
“I don’t put any blame on the Legislature,” said Legislator Alan Sorensen, who represents the district in which the Apollo property sits. “It came down to a business decision for Chancellor-Livingston.”
Zabatta said Chancellor-Livingston will now explore other opportunities in Sullivan County, which he declined to identify.
Despite the county having spent thousands of dollars in resources on this effort, legislators appeared eager to move on, as well.
“We can now pursue things as a team ... instead of finishing up something that started before us,” Samuelson said, explaining that the newly elected batch of legislators didn’t have the same relationship with this project as did their forebears, who had initially selected Chancellor-Livingston.
Steingart said he was grateful the developers pulled out now rather than months down the road, when far more money and time would have been expended.
“I think it’s best for all of us now that we go down this road,” he explained.
Samuelson agreed, actually commending the developers “for not holding things up.”
The Apollo properties will likely be a main topic of an April committee meeting, though when and where remain to be determined.
Samuelson confirmed legislators have already been talking about it via emails and phone calls, but no consensus or plan has emerged.
Sorensen told the Democrat he’s interested in retail and lodging up front (by East Broadway) and light industry in back (by the closed landfill) a plan he advanced when the county first gained ownership of the property.
“We need to look at all options,” he urged. “... I don’t want to fall into the ‘desperation’ economic trap.”
In the county’s official press release about Chancellor-Livingston’s withdrawal, Steingart specifically mentioned one of the other firms initially interested in redeveloping the Apollo: the Resnick Group.
“There should be renewed consideration given to the proposed project that was submitted to the county by Butch Resnick, as well as the potential of an updated request for proposals,” he said.
Resnick is interested, said his attorney, Steve Vegliante.
“Absolutely,” he confirmed. “... We still think it’s a viable project.”
Resnick’s idea for a truck stop and shopping center (with a rehabbed, not reconstructed, Apollo) is still at the heart of his proposal, said Vegliante, but he’s eager to hear the county’s vision as well.
“We’re waiting for the next step from the county,” Vegliante explained. “... Butch is ready, willing and able to sit down with the county when they’re ready.”
The county could decide to deal solely with Resnick or might opt to resubmit a request for proposals though Fanslau said that could proceed faster than the first time, considering the work that’s already been done.
“I don’t think it necessarily needs to be another elongated process,” Fanslau affirmed.
Samuelson, Steingart and Sorensen said they were disappointed but remained optimistic about the Apollo’s future.
“Obviously it’s going to take a little more work than we anticipated,” said Sorensen. “But this gives us the opportunity to take a fresh look at our approach.”