Old Country Road's shopping hub will soon show off its latest testament to the area's retail prowess: The Gallery at Westbury Plaza.
The $144-million shopping center, described as a beacon in a tough economy when it broke ground in 2011, will begin opening stores this month. Local officials say the new 330,000- square-foot plaza, which has a Garden City mailing address, will help usher more retail development into the region, especially with other upcoming events like the proposed expansion and renovation of neighboring Roosevelt Field mall.
"What's interesting is we get a lot of national groups talking to us, and they still tell us our area, based on income population, can still absorb more retail," said Frederick Parola, chief executive of the Town of Hempstead Industrial Development Agency. Projects like The Gallery at Westbury Plaza "will portend and segue into additional growth," he said.
The new center's owner and developer, Equity One Inc., the Manhattan-based real estate investment trust, has leased space to marquee brands such as Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th and Nordstrom Rack, as well as food establishments with devoted followings such as Trader Joe's and Shake Shack, aiming to create a retail mix distinct from the average Long Island shopping center. There are 12 tenants so far; it is not fully occupied.
An uncommon setting
The plaza's design incorporates metal panels and different shades of stone, glass structures and one building with two levels of retail space -- uncommon for shopping centers, said Mike Berfield, Equity One executive vice president of development.
"We've spent extra time and money making it a place where people will be happy to hang out," Berfield said.
The project is the first ground-up development that Equity One has done in the Northeast, and the company is looking for other opportunities on Long Island, Berfield said.
A handful of well-known retailers will make their Long Island debuts there, including The Container Store, Bloomingdale's Outlet and Shake Shack. The Container Store is the first to open, on Saturday, followed by Trader Joe's on Aug. 17.
"One of the things we know about our customers is that she is extremely time-constrained, so we want to place our store where she is already comfortable shopping and she's already there," said Valerie Richardson, vice president of real estate for The Container Store.
Consumer trends have shown that shoppers cycle between going to regional malls and downtown neighborhood centers, said David Pennetta, president of the Commercial Industrial Brokers Society of Long Island.
"The Gallery at Westbury Plaza fits in between, with convenience to parking and a broad selection of quality retailers," he said.
The plaza represents the new definition of value shopping, packaging premium-brand outlets and full-price shops offering value in an upscale showcase, said Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst for the NPD Group, a Port Washington-based market research firm.
A lift for local economy
The shopping center development gave the local economy a boost, adding about 500 construction jobs during the construction phase and about $160 million with Equity One's investment and surrounding business activity, according to the Town of Hempstead.
"I think here in the Town of Hempstead a microcosm of a re-energized economy is being borne out with this development and the uptick in residential development," said Kate Murray, Town of Hempstead supervisor, noting the residential projects also taking place.
Equity One received a sales tax exemption from the Town of Hempstead IDA during the construction phase and will pay a set property tax of $1.7 million a year for the first five years and $1.8 million for the next five years. In exchange, the company has committed to creating 300 permanent jobs in the first year, adding 50 more in the second year and another 25 for a total of 375 permanent jobs when the center is fully occupied. However, the plaza is expected ultimately to create about 600 permanent jobs.
While the Mall at the Source has many vacancies and will lose two major tenants, Nordstrom Rack and Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th, to the new center, some officials predict that the new plaza will increase the mall's value to developers eyeing the area.
"I think success builds on each other," Murray said.