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Owner defends decision to challenge assessment on Harte Haven in Massena

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MASSENA — It’s been a tough 25 years for Michael Wachs, who owns the Harte Haven Shopping Center.

And while the plaza is doing well now, Mr. Wachs said that is the result of a lot of hard work and a large financial investment.

He was responding to criticism lodged by town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray on his company’s decision to challenge the assessment on the shopping center.

“I think that Mr. Gray, with all due respect, is miscategorizing our company,” Mr. Wachs said after Mr. Gray characterized the Harte Haven Shopping Center as a multimillion-dollar company. “I’m sitting here at my desk in a white T-shirt and jeans.”

Since purchasing the plaza more than 25 years ago, Mr. Wachs said he’s seen some pretty tough times.

“It has been an incredibly difficult period of time,” he said. “But through it all we have always conducted ourselves in the most professional manner possible, and we have tried, as difficult as it has been this past 25 plus years, to maintain relevance for shoppers and retailers in our consumer base.”

Mr. Wachs said it was shortly after he purchased the plaza that St. Lawrence Centre opened.

“Soon after we purchased the shopping center, the mall was built and when that took place it was as if a tsunami came across the Atlantic and into the Pacific. When it settled, it was as if it took everything with it,” he said. “Despite every obstacle, we prided ourselves on being stewards of the asset and proud partners in the Massena community.”

Massena Assessor Michael Ward said in 2010 the plaza was assessed for $4,208,750. The property’s assessment was then increased to $5,115,560 in 2011 following the sale of St. Lawrence Plaza.

“We had a sale and whenever there is a sale that’s an indicator of value,” he said. “They don’t even want to go back to their original assessment though. They want to go down to $2 million.”

With the success the plaza has had in recent years, with TJ Maxx moving from the mall to the shopping center, Game Stop moving in and the opening of Vino Vidi Vici, Mr. Ward said he’s actually considered increasing the plaza’s assessment.

“I seriously considered increasing it when the restaurant opened up and they got more stores, but we left it alone,” he said.

Mr. Ward said he feels like the town is standing on solid ground and has a strong case for not reducing Harte Haven’s assessment.

“I think he’s just hoping we’ll settle,” Mr. Ward said. “I can’t speak for the town board, but I can tell you we don’t have to negotiate.”

While Mr. Wachs doesn’t deny the plaza is doing well, he said the plaza’s recent success has cost him and his partners a lot of money.

“These tenants aren’t just happening,” he said. “There were large capital investments we had to make, and that money did not come from the government.”

Mr. Wachs said he’s hoping the success at Harte Haven will be contagious.

“Hopefully other companies, and not just retailers, will see this positive energy and plant their roots into the community like we have,” he said. “Then Mr. Gray can look to other sources besides those who have battled back from the precipice of nonexistence to generate some much-needed additional revenue from the tax base.”

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