Out of the Past: the McKinley Mall referendum, 1985

       By Steve Cichon

With both Macy’s stores and Ulta gone, Bon Ton on the way out, and the mall’s owner unable to keep up with the mortgage payments, these are troubling times for the McKinley Mall.

McKinley Mall and AM&A’s.

For decades, having a mall at the corner of Milestrip Rd. and McKinley Pkwy. has just been a way of life around here, but whether or not the mall should be built in the first place was, according to The Sun, “the most controversial political question ever presented to Hamburg Town voters.” The question was answered in a 1981 referendum on a land swap, which essentially asked voters whether or not the mall should be built.

Hamburg and all of Wester New York were buzzing with the question. The property where the mall now was park land, but called mall proponents called it “a piece of scrub and brush property” that could transformed into “a regional mall with top flight shopping facilities” standing poised to pay $10 million in property taxes over the first decade.

Taxpayers for a Great Hamburg, led by Vincent M. Gaughan, Sr, lauded what was being presented as a $100 million investment in Hamburg—the largest in the town’s history. It was anticipated that up to 95% of the 2000 jobs created by the mall would go to Hamburg residents, and that payroll for those jobs would exceed $20 million annually.

Consolidated Residents Against McKinley Mall– or CRAMM– was opposed to the development which would “change (Hamburg) forever,” and cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars per year to provide services to the mall. “Our park gone today,” read one ad, “maybe your park gone tomorrow.”

The final vote was 10,122 yes and 8,134 no. With only 55% of Hamburg residents on board, shovels broke ground in July, 1984. Supervisor Jack Quinn called the $50 million project “the cornerstone of Hamburg’s future.”

The Sample opens at McKinley Mall, 1985

The mall opened amid fanfare on October 7, 1985 with AM&A’s and a “new high-tech Sears” as anchors for the 75 tenants, including The Sample. LL Berger’s was added as a third anchor in 1988 and Sibley’s became a fourth anchor tenant in 1989.

In the last month, the mall’s owners have been declared delinquent in a $35.4 million loan on the mall property as an increasing number of storefronts go empty with the future of the 33-year-old shopping center up in the air.

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Steve Cichon

Steve Cichon writes about Buffalo’s pop culture history. His stories of Buffalo's past have appeared more than 1600 times in The Buffalo News. He's a proud Buffalonian helping the world experience the city he loves. Since the earliest days of the internet, Cichon's been creating content celebrating the people, places, and ideas that make Buffalo unique and special. The 25-year veteran of Buffalo radio and television has written five books and curates The Buffalo Stories Archives-- hundreds of thousands of books, images, and audio/visual media which tell the stories of who we are in Western New York.