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City eyes eminent domain at Stateway Plaza

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The city of Watertown could be leaning toward eminent domain if the owners of Stateway Plaza do not agree to sell land for a connector road to run through the strip mall.

Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham said Monday night that plaza owners Ben Wygodny and Martin Wenger, both of Montreal, may not have a lot of incentive to sell the land that would be used for a connector road to help develop some neighboring commercial property.

The mayor urged the other members of the City Council to start thinking about whether the city should pursue buying the needed land through eminent domain. He planned to bring up the subject at next Monday night’s council meeting.

“I don’t think personally anybody with any common sense would voluntarily agree to sell something like that with eminent domain looming,” he said.

The city and plaza representatives have been trying to negotiate a deal. City Attorney James A. Burrows said Tuesday the city is still waiting for the plaza owners’ attorney to get back to him.

So far, he has not had any direction from City Manager Sharon A. Addison to proceed with eminent domain, noting “that’s always an option.”

Developer Patrick M. Donegan has said he has interest from a potential “big” tenant for City Center Plaza, the series of hotels, restaurants and retail shops he owns off Arsenal Street adjacent to Stateway Plaza.

The Alexandria Bay developer said he believes he can attract the unidentified big-box national retailer to the 18-acre site if the connector road is built from Arsenal Street through the Stateway Plaza parking lot to Gaffney Drive at the other end. Plans would call for a 100,000-square-foot store.

City officials have expressed a desire to build the road, to be called Western Boulevard, in a proposal that has been discussed for years.

The biggest drawback for the city has been the cost. The most recent projection came in at $1.75 million. But that price could increase if the project is changed.

Meanwhile, the Stateway Plaza owners have purchased the now-vacant Community Bank branch at 1218 Arsenal St. that sits in front of the plaza. The purchase price was $450,000.

It is unclear the reason for the purchase of the bank branch. Jeffrey A. Foster, a real estate manager who oversees the plaza, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

But Mr. Burrows said he thought that the 1.5-acre parcel could be used to improve entrance into the plaza from that site. There already is a one-way access road between the former bank branch and the former Blockbuster Video store next door. He also said he believes the acquisition has “no direct impact” on the deal for the connector road.

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