Monday, July 16, 2012

NYC's First Outlet Mall Planned for the Bronx

A Manhattan real estate company is planning a Woodbury Commons-like outlet mall at the Whitestone Multiplex Cinemas site in the Castle Hill section of the Bronx. The Lightstone Group, which paid $30 million for the 1 million-square-foot property in May, has met with borough officials to discuss workforce development and potential spots for local restaurants at the mall, among other issues. If those plans bear fruit, the product would be the first such mall anywhere in the city.

A spokeswoman for The Lightstone Group said that the company is "exploring options for redevelopment of the site," but would not confirm plans for the outlet mall. She said that the multiplex cinema would continue to operate indefinitely until plans are finalized for the site's future. What's more, the company has an extensive track record as a buyer and developer of outlet malls.

Lightstone, which paid $30 million for the 1 million-square-foot property in May, has met with borough officials about workforce development and spots for local restaurants at the mall, among other issues, according to Marlene Cintron, president of the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corp.

"We welcome abnd support them," Ms. Cintron said. "We can't wait to have another shopping Mecca in the Bronx."

Finalized or not, plans for a mall seem to be taking shape. Ms. Cintron said Lightstone "purchased the property with the purpose of turning it into a Woodbury Commons-type outlet mall" and that Bronx Community Board 10 officials have already been briefed on the plan.

Lightstone would not need any government approvals to build the mall because it is an as-of-right site that is already zoned for all commercial uses except large outdoor amusements. The living wage issue, which derailed plans for a mall at the huge Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx, would not come into play because Lightstone is not seeking city subsidies, borough officials said. Because the site is near Westchester Creek, Lightstone would have to adhere to sightline and other waterfront requirements set forth by the Department of City Planning.

"This mall and one going up in Bay Plaza are really going to change the shopping options in the east Bronx, Queens and Westchester," said a spokesman for Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., referring to a 780,000-sqaure-foot mall anchored by a Macy's that is under construction four miles to the north at Bay Plaza in Co-op City. "We think this is a good thing."

Community Board 10 is generally in favor of the outlet mall, but it has some concerns about the added traffic. The site is near the Bruckner Interchange, the worst traffic bottleneck in the nation, according to Inrix, a company that collects and analyzes such data. There is also a new Target going up in the neighborhood, and plenty of existing truck traffic from a Home Depot and big PepsiCo bottling plant.

The Whitestone Multiplex Cinemas, located at 2505 Bruckner Blvd., opened in 1983. Before that, The Whitestone drive-in theater operated on the site for nearly twenty years.

Lightstone is a privately held real estate company headquartered in Manhattan. It has an extensive portfolio of retail, multifamily, hospitality, office and industrial properties across the U.S. Last year, it purchased a residential development site in Long Island City for $19.3 million.

In 2003, the company purchased Prime Outlets, a chain of outlet malls, for $638 million, turning itself from "an owner of second-tier apartment buildings into a noteworthy player in real estate," selling the chain to Simon Property Group in 2010 for $2.3 billion. Lightstone then formed Paragon Outlet Partners, a development company that is building outlet malls in Texas and California.