When shabby Nanuet Mall opens in October after an extreme makeover, it will offer more than "just" 40-50 new retailers.
Renamed as Shops at Nanuet, the new outdoor center aims to evoke the feel of a bustling suburban downtown, where landscaped streets are lined with an architectural mix of storefronts.
But the project isn't just about shopping, according to Tom Schneider, executive vice president for Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group, which owns the Nanuet.
"We are in the business of competing for people's leisure time," Schneider said during a phone interview. The goal is to create a destination that "fits into the fabric of the community."
Also in the works: five to seven full-service restaurants, several casual eateries, a 24-Hour Fitness health club, a gourmet Fairway Market, a 12-screen Regal Cinema multiplex and 3,500 parking spaces.
CASH REGISTER KA-CHING
Simon said its $91 million overhaul of the 63-acre site will have an annual economic impact of $400 million to $500 million, according to company filings with Rockland's Industrial Development Agency, which extended $4.5 million in tax breaks to help the mall developer jump-start its project.
Once complete, the mall is also expected to employ an estimated 1,200 full- and part-time workers. Already, the local economy received a boost when demolition on the site began in March 2012.
"It's creating jobs, construction jobs, and it's cleaning up what's been an eyesore for more than a decade," said elated Clarkstown Supervisor Alex Gromack.
The 59-year-old Nanuet native was a boy when Nanuet Mall arrived on the scene in 1969 as one of the first enclosed malls. "It had all the latest and greatest shops," he recalled.
In its prime, the mall was also the scene of the famously horrible 1981 Brink's armored car robbery. The holdup-gone-bad by two radical groups -- the Black Liberation Army and Weather Underground -- led to the shooting deaths of two police officers and an armored guard.
Although the shopping center recovered from bad press, its true demise began in 1998, when the enclosed, mega-sized Palisades Center Mall opened five miles away in Nyack, with hundreds of retailers.
"Now it will be interesting to see when Shops at Nanuet opens, what kind of impact it will have on the Palisades Mall," Gromack said. Over time, he predicted, "As an outdoor mall, Nanuet will draw different types of people."
And with Shops at Nanuet be just 3.5 miles from New Jersey's Bergen County, where shopping is still banned on Sundays, Simon executives said they are hoping to draw upscale customers from New Jersey, Rockland and young folks from area college campuses.
'DE-MALLING' THE MALL
Reconfiguring the new Main Street-inspired mall had its unique challenges, Schneider said. For starters, longtime anchor tenants Sears and Macy's stayed open during the entire demolition process.
In about two months, the steel framing for the site will be complete and the "skin" will go on the buildings. By summer, stores will start their build-outs, he added.
The new center will be about 800,000 square feet, compared with 1 million square feet for the old operation. It is one of numerous outdoor-mall makeovers done in the past decade on older holdings of Simon, the largest mall developer in the country. The company also owns The Westchester and The Galleria, enclosed malls in White Plains, as well as the Woodbury Common Premium Outlets in Harriman.
It would have been "very difficult" for Simon to redevelop Nanuet Mall as an enclosed mall and compete with the Palisades Center, which is "huge" and "has a great variety of food and fashion retailers," Malachy Kavanagh, spokesman for the International Council of Shopping Centers, said in an email. "So it makes a great deal of sense to take the Nanuet Mall and de-mall it."
The most recent addition of the outdoor mall in the Hudson Valley came in October 2011 with the opening of the 1.3 million-square-foot Ridge Hill in Yonkers. In that instance, however, Forest City Ratner Cos. built the shopping center anew.
Though retailers have not yet been announced at the Nanuet, one eatery at the former mall already has decided to be part of the new mix.
Banchetto Feast, a family-style Italian restaurant that opened seven years ago in the old site, returned in October 2012 after closing for seven months. Its location in a new, free-standing building that faces out to the street is going to be a "huge plus," especially after the final days in the original location, where there was no foot traffic. It was an experience that co-owner Eddie Almeida described as "dismal."
But these days, he said, "Seeing how beautiful this restaurant is now, it's getting very exciting for the future."