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Herald file

HERMITAGE — City officials and a developer planning to purchase the Shenango Valley Mall property will work together on building a city-center-style design.

Funding for the development will come through a public-private partnership, with Pennsylvania putting up a $2.5 million grant through the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program.

Under the program requirements, the city has six months to develop a plan for developing the mall area. Gary Gulla, the city’s assistant manager, said the city and officials from Akron-based LRC Realty will collaborate on a proposal that will comply with Hermitage’s recently adopted 2030 Comprehensive Plan.

LRC confirmed Wednesday that it was in the process of buy the mall from GFM-23, descendants of George F. McConnell, who purchased the property about 75 years ago as a dairy farm. The mall was built by Crown American Corp. of Johnstown and opened March 13, 1968.

“We’ll work with the developer,” Gulla said. “They are committed to the comprehensive plan.”

The comprehensive plan, approved in June, calls for the city to promote city-center-style projects that include walkable, mixed-use developments with retail, entertainment, dining, office and residential space. 

Gulla and City Manager Gary Hinkson credited state Sen. Michele Brooks, R-50th, Jamestown, and state Rep. Mark Longietti, D-7th, Hermitage, for their work obtaining the grant.

In a statement issued Thursday, Longietti said the development could help the current Shenango Valley Mall site become a destination point locally and throughout the region.

“I am pleased that we were able to secure the necessary public funding to help implement this visionary project,” he said.

Gulla and Hinkson did not release any specifics for the project, aside from saying that it would adhere to the comprehensive plan’s vision.

Brooks said the city and LRC have interesting ideas “on the drawing board.”

“It’s the beginning of creating a town center and a town square,” she said.

The development would be an effort to turn around the Shenango Valley Mall’s fortunes. The mall went into receivership after the loss of several stores, including anchor department stores Sears and Macy’s, in 2017.

GFM-23 owns the land beneath the mall and won control of the mall lease in January through a Mercer County Common Pleas Court decision after New York-based Iowa Square Realty failed to pay rent or property taxes, as required under the lease terms.

Matt McConnell, a spokesman for GFM-23, said Thursday that the family paid the delinquent property taxes and made improvements, including replacement of parking lot lights, to the mall.

McConnell said he was optimistic that the mall’s sale could be positive for the mall, Hermitage and Mercer County, based on the success of LRC’s projects at Youngstown State University and The Block Northway in the Pittsburgh suburb of Ross Township.

“This could be a renaissance for Hermitage,” he said. “This provides a great opportunity.”

Follow Eric Poole on Facebook and Twitter @HeraldEricPoole. Email him at epoole@sharonherald.com