Staten Island is in the midst of a retail revival, with a new outlet mall planned for St. George near the ferry terminal and strong sales of existing buildings elsewhere.
But the real retail story is happening mid-island, at the Staten Island Mall. Owner General Growth Properties wants to expand the mall by nearly half a million square feet – the equivalent of a small skyscraper – by building on some of its boundless surface parking lots.
They are well within their density limits for the property, but they must seek city approval because of their parking plans: they don’t want to add any. They’re actually asking to slightly reduce the amount of parking at the mall.
The 445,000-gross-square-foot expansion – a significant addition to the current 1.2 million sq. ft. of retail space – includes, among other things, a supermarket, food court restaurant, movie theater and 75,000-sq. ft. expansion of Macy’s, plus conversion of some common space in the current mall into retail.
“Currently,” reads the environmental assessment that the developer filed with the city seeking relief from the onerous requirements, “despite the commercial success of the Mall” – it’s attracted an Apple store and Uniqlo – “the applicant believes that the surface parking lots surrounding the Mall are underutilized.” If they had to build all the garage parking required, the project “would not be economically feasible.”
The parking exemption request illustrates the absurdity of the city’s requirements – if the current mall were built today, it would require a whopping 9,438 spaces (it only has 5,844), according to the environmental assessment. Instead, the developer is seeking to redevelop surface lots containing 1,781 spaces while only replacing 1,500 of them in a garage, resulting in a 281-spot reduction.
Compare this to the municipally-initiated outlet mall and Ferris wheel on Staten Island’s North Shore (a site that should rightly be housing), where the Economic Development Corporation has assembled a team of developers who will build 2,200 spaces worth of structured parking in Staten Island’s most transit-accessible neighborhood.
While the Staten Island Mall might not have the easy ferry access of St. George, it is one of the island’s three major bus hubs and acts as the terminus for the S79 Select Bus Service route to Bay Ridge, among others. The mall is the island’s largest retail center and the new grocery store will attract locals, possibly diverting them from farther supermarkets, cutting down on car travel throughout the borough.
The environmental assessment estimates that construction could begin in 2015 and take 27 months, with the new space ready to be occupied by 2017.
The architect designing the expansion is S9, an affiliate of Perkins Eastman. Perkins Eastman is also doing the “New York Wheel” and 100,000-sq. ft. “terminal” building that’s adjacent to the Empire Outlets mall on the North Shore.
The city should approve the request without delay, and should cut its parking minimums throughout the city, allowing malls in other boroughs to densify without having to grovel to city officials for parking waivers. It should also allow the developers at Empire Outlets and the New York Wheel to follow the Staten Island Mall’s lead and build fewer than 2,200 spaces if they so choose.
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