Crossgates is a Bad Neighbor

by Lynne Jackson

OK, Crossgates has been in the news a lot recently. Actually, they made it into the international news. Save the Pine Bush has received emails from out raged people as far away as Sydney Australia, and California.

People are mad.

To recap: On Monday evening, March 3, Stephen Downs and his son Roger, were stopped by a security guard at Crossgates Maul. They were wearing T-shirts which they had just purchased at the mall. Stephen’s T-shirt said ”Peace on Earth” on the front and “Give Peace a Chance” on the back. Roger’s shirt said “No War with Iraq” on the front and “Let Inspections Work” on the back.

They were asked by a Crossgates security guard to leave the mall. A Guilderland police officer, who was already at the mall, was asked for assistance. The police officer spoke with the Downs for an hour, asking them to either leave or remove their shirts.

Stephen Downs, an attorney with New York State’s Commission on Judicial Conduct, refused to remove his shirt, and was arrested and handcuffed.

No matter how many denials are made by Crossgates officials, the Downs’ were obviously asked to leave because of their shirts. Free speech is not allowed at Crossgates.

Though hundreds of people shop at Crossgates every day, it is considered private property. The people who own the property appear to be able to regulate what people wear. Is this really America?

What isn’t in the international news

Crossgates fires people unjustly

Crossgates isn’t just a bad neighbor because they don’t want visitors wearing T-shirts with a message of peace. They are a bad neighbor because they seem to have placed the blame for this incident on the shoulders of the security guard who signed the complaint against Stephen Downs. Crossgates fired Robert Williams, who has worked at the mall for more than nine years, and has been honored for his service to the mall. According to an account in the Times Union, Williams said, “I just followed the directions of management of that mall to the letter. And I get fired for doing my job.”

Mr. Williams said it was his boss, Fred Tallman, who made the decision to have Mr. Downs arrested if he did not take off his shirt. However, according to Mr. Williams, Mr. Tallman was too busy to sign the complaint. According to Mr. Williams, Mr. Tallman told the police officer, “he represents the company so he can sign [the complaint]”.

Crossgates is lax about security

In an article published on January 11, 2003, the Times Union reported that a 14-year old girl was robbed of $100 bill outside the rest room. Instead of calling police, the security guard said if the girl didn’t know the serial number of the bill, he couldn’t help her. Despite the fact the girl had a detailed description of the robber, it took mall personnel two hours before they notified the police.

Note the amount of time it took to sic the police on Mr. Downs (according to all written reports, it was immediate) as opposed to a young girl being robbed of her Christmas money at the mall. This begs the question of what is more important to mall management?

Crossgates doesn’t want to pay its fair share

Pryamid, owner of Crossgates, has appealed its tax assessment every year since 1993, except in 2001, when it missed the deadline. So far, Pyramid has lost every case. The Appellate Division just decided the most recent case, which involved tax assessments for 1996/97 and 1997/98. According to a report printed in the Altamont Enterprise:

“We reject PCC’s [Pyramid Crossgates Company] assertion that the Supreme Court abused its discretion in refusing to forgive its failure to comply with clear mandates,” wrote Judge Edward O. Spain in a decision with which the other four judges concurred. “PCC did not file or serve a statement of income and expenses in the nearly six years . . .such neglect in filing an income and expense statement cannot be excused as a mere ‘technicality’ in this case.”

There are still outstanding appeals. Pyramid continues to pay its taxes, so if Guilderland loses, then the school district and the town would need to pay Pryamid back. If Pryamid wins the other tax appeals, it is estimated that the school district would owe $13 million and the town $9 to 10 million. The school district and town have together spent an estimated $500,000 on legal fees defending their assessment of the property.

In conclusion – a bad neighbor

Crossgates destroyed 180 acres of Pine Bush ecosystem and Karner Blue habitat when it was built. Despite tremendous citizen opposition to the construction of Crossgates, and a year of environmental hearings, the citizens lost and Crossgates was built. It has expanded several times, each time facing the wrath of the citizens. Its last proposed expansion, which would have doubled its size, was withdrawn in the face of a town of people who were enraged at the thought of the mall getting bigger still.

Crossgates is a blight on the landscape. It contributes to the degraded air pollution of our region, because the only way to get there is to drive (there are buses to Crossgates, but the number of people who take the bus are quite limited compared to the number of people who drive). Walking to Crossgates is not for the faint of heart or for anyone who can’t run a five minute mile to dodge the traffic. It has increased traffic on Western Avenue to the point it is dangerous to walk on the street by the mall entrance and bicycling is out of the question for all but the extremely brave. Downtown Albany and Schenectady are bereft of anything resembling a department store.

Crossgates epitomizes sprawl. It is an attractive place for young people to gather, yet, as it is considered private property, freedom of speech and assembly are not allowed. In many ways, malls have replaced our public town squares with privatized spaces solely concerned with making a buck.

Its a poor substitute for a town square.

Save the Pine Bush encourages everyone to boycott Crossgates.

There is still hope

In the past thirty years, two malls in the Capital Region were built and torn down. Save the Pine Bush hopes to see the day Crossgates is torn down. Lets see, if a mall lasts thirty years, then Crossgates will be gone by 2014. Hopefully, it will be replaced with restored Pine Bush — the only question remaining is do we rip out the foundation or not before restoring the dune topography?

Read more about Crossgates at these links:
A sampling of stories from the local newspapers
Articles published by Save the Pine Bush