- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—As news rippled through the city that a local businessman now owns the Mall at Steamtown, it brought hope for one mall shop owner that the failing retail center could gain new life.

Andrzej Faryna, owner of the Swarovski crystal jewelry seller Austrian Crystal on the mall’s ground level, grinned and grew wide-eyed when he learned that John Basalyga, a 36-year-old roofing contractor with a knack for reviving forlorn properties, had closed on the property Monday for $5.5 million.

While experts have said the shopping mall model no longer works downtown, and any developer is likely to repurpose it in some way, Mr. Faryna hopes the new owner will work to restore the mall to its former glory, he said.

“When I started business here, there were no empty stores,” said the Polish immigrant who opened his shop about eight years ago. “I had to wait for an empty store.”

With more shoppers seeking other amenities offered in a shopping districts like Dickson City, Moosic and Wilkes-Barre Twp., the mall is up against a challenge, Mr. Faryna said.

“It’s very difficult to save it in downtown,” he said.

Mr. Basalyga has not revealed his plans for the building, but local architect Michele Dempsey, who has offered her own suggestions for repurposing the mall, was encouraged by news of the sale, she said.

“Mr. Basalyga has an impressive track record for positive redevelopment in the region,” she said. “I’m hopeful his youth, energy and commitment to this area will lead to an exciting and forward-thinking transformation of the mall.”

Scranton Councilman Wayne Evans said he has met Mr. Basalyga, is familiar with some of his work and was excited by the prospect of a young, energetic, local person taking over the mall.

Given the mall’s struggles, the councilman was encouraged by the developer’s history of adaptive reuses of old buildings, like converting factories into apartments.

“I can’t wait to hear his plans and what he wants to do with it,” Mr. Evans said. “When he develops a plan, it will reduce the uncertainty about the mall. He made a big investment, and I’m sure he will want to see a return on it.”

Jeff Bordi of Dickson City made his way through the mall Monday evening. He had gone to the mall to pay a bill.

He’d like to see the mall remain a shopping center, he said, but suggested its new owner should entice new retailers with goods geared for smaller budgets.

“I hope they get more shops in and Scranton starts booming again,” he said. “Shops that people actually want to shop at … People are struggling, Scranton is struggling.”

Kyle Wind, staff writer, contributed to this report.

Contact the writer: [email protected], @jon_oc on Twitter


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