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Whitman mall tax breaks clear hurdle

An artist’s rendering shows a proposed 68,000-square-foot addition

An artist’s rendering shows a proposed 68,000-square-foot addition to the Walt Whitman mall in South Huntington. Simon Property Group is seeking $3 million in tax breaks for the project. Photo Credit: Handout

Plans to expand the Walt Whitman mall in Huntington Station received a boost Thursday from Suffolk County.

The board of directors of the county's industrial development agency gave preliminary approval to $3 million in tax breaks over 10 years. Much of the savings, $1.3 million each, will be in property tax and sales tax on equipment and furnishings for the proposed addition.

The mall's owner, Simon Property Group of Indianapolis, wants to add 68,000 square feet of space to the shopping emporium, which now totals 1 million square feet. It also plans improvements to the building facade, and lighting and landscaping along Route 110.

The project, valued at $40 million, will add 165 jobs to the current workforce of 2,200. Among the new stores will be Henri Bendel, Vera Bradley, Anthropologie, Free People and Hanna Andersson.

"The current shopping center is becoming increasingly inefficient and is in need of an upgrade in order to maintain and increase its current customer base, and, in turn, to maintain and attract quality tenants," said Daniel P. Deegan, a Uniondale lawyer representing what is now called The Walt Whitman Shops.

The mall didn't apply for tax breaks for an earlier renovation because from 1993 to 2008 state law prohibited development agencies from aiding retailers. Recently, the Babylon Town IDA gave tax breaks to Tanger Outlets at the Arches in Deer Park, and the Hempstead Town IDA backed The Gallery at Westbury Plaza project. Last year, the Nassau County IDA assisted the expansion of Penn Toyota in East Hills.

Thursday, Suffolk IDA vice chairman David Rosenberg said the Walt Whitman mall deserved help because it's a major shopping destination. The addition is expected to generate $3.5 million in sales tax revenue each year for the county.

"This is such a significant, large project, and it will promote jobs," Rosenberg said. "They aren't high-paying jobs, but they are new jobs when the unemployment rate remains very high in the county."

The project still faces a public hearing before the IDA considers granting final approval.

To accommodate more shoppers, about 50 parking spaces will be added, said mall manager Deborah Weber.

The development agency also approved an incentive package aimed at turning Francis S. Gabreski Airport into a business hub. Rechler Equity Partners wants to construct two buildings at the Westhampton Beach airport and make improvements to roads and other infrastructure. To support the $13-million plan, the IDA agreed to more than $2 million in tax breaks over 15 years.

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