Our Opinion: Reinvention of The Mall at Steamtown will require time and technology

July 29th, 2015 2:31 pm

Maybe The Mall at Steamtown can thrive again.

Bargain hunter John Basalyga recently scooped up Scranton’s bankrupt retail complex for about $5.5 million, reportedly intending to resuscitate the place with “imagination and hard work.”

It’ll be a herculean task, of course, and unlikely to succeed without a business strategy that calls for adopting and adapting to the latest technology as well as continually monitoring consumer trends. Expecting an enclosed, department store-dependent mall with a multiplex and arcade to automatically draw shoppers is folly; this isn’t 1985.

As reported by Digiday in April, today’s malls are “pinging” people into their stores, using a beacon technology that blasts out promotions, discounts and other notifications to people’s cellphones and mobile devices “when customers are most likely to use them.”

Simon, the nation’s largest mall developer, also is leaning heavily on technology to invigorate its properties, according to a Fortune article this spring. In conjunction with eBay, its mall in Palo Alto, California, now brings shoppers “an interactive directory with 3D maps, and personalized offers,” the article states. Plus, Simon is collaborating on new, digital storefronts.

Basalyga, 36, the founder of Eastern Roofing Systems Inc. in Jessup, previously has delved into real estate development. He reportedly converted industrial buildings in Dickson City and Olyphant into loft apartments and owns a Spring Brook Township restaurant.

In his latest business venture in this region, Basalyga will need a bold plan and a bit of luck. The two-story mall along Lackawanna Avenue maintains about 47 active storefronts, according to the Times Leader’s article about this week’s high-profile property transaction. Twenty-three spaces are unoccupied. Anchor stores such as The Bon-Ton and Express abandoned ship in recent years, as did many eatery chains.

On the plus side, officials with the Boscov’s store appear committed to the site. Likewise, holdouts in the food court include Roman Delight Pizza and Subway.

Basalyga, a North Pocono High School graduate, seemingly appreciates the magnitude of both the 558,816-square-foot mall property and the challenge ahead. “The Mall at Steamtown is one of the most significant pieces of commercial real estate in Northeastern Pennsylvania and a landmark in downtown Scranton,” he stated in a news release.

We extend congratulations to Basalyga on his winning bid and wish him well with The Mall at Steamtown’s reinvention.

As boosters of this region and patrons of its businesses, we can’t wait to see what’s in store.