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Onondaga County explores legal options to take over Great Northern Mall in Clay

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CLAY, N.Y. — Much like ShoppingTown Mall before it, Great Northern Mall in the town of Clay continues to deteriorate.

Onondaga County addressed the failures at ShoppingTown by taking over the property and reselling it to a buyer promising to make good use of the space. Last summer, the county announced it sold the failing mall for $8 million to OHB Redev LLC, who planned to redevelop the property into a retail and residential campus. County Executive Ryan McMahon said the developer is currently working on a final contract for the county’s approval.

McMahon previously said he will consider a similar course of action with Great Northern. But to make that happen, there are several legal requirements the county would need to meet.

Foreclosure is one of the county’s options, which it did with ShoppingTown, but that course of action brings monetary consequences for taxpayers.

“The county took over the mall, but not nearly for all the taxes that were due, because the owner claimed that the taxes were over-assessed in the first place and they didn’t owe all that money,” explained Eugene Welch, an attorney with Tully Rinckey.

Welch said finding a different buyer for the mall could be a more favorable option. But in that case, the new owner would owe all of the back taxes on Great Northern, over $4 million.

As the mall’s unpaid taxes continue to grow, the town of Clay has issued over a dozen code violations to Great Northern over the past three years, citing issues like leaky roofs, low lighting in the parking lot, and potholes. Despite that, Welch said the town still does not, and never will, have the power to foreclose on the mall.

“The best that the town of Clay can do is issue the code violations, and if the mall owner does not contest them, then they can assess a fine for each code violation,” Welch said. “And that goes on their tax bill for what they owe.”

In February of 2020, Great Northern and Onondaga County leaders agreed on a payment plan of $100,000 per month through April 2024, but county leaders say the mall has not honored the deal.

A spokesperson for the county executive’s office said the mall owner’s failure to honor the repayment agreement presents the county with several legal options to take over the property, which the county is currently exploring.

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