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Empire Outlets puts the ‘forgotten borough’ on the map

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After seven years of planning, New York City’s first outlet mall opened on Staten Island’s north shore

Empire Outlets opened on Staten Island’s north shore this week.
BFC partners

After seven years in the works, New York City’s first outlet mall has opened its doors on Staten Island’s north shore.

Empire Outlets, the sprawling mall steps from the Staten Island Ferry terminal, debuted this week as a shopping destination “for diamonds to denim” that will lure locals and tourists alike, according to the developer behind the project, BFC partners.

“We are located literally 65 feet from New York harbor. You can watch the container ships and cruise ships cruise by; it’s really just being in a place that people want to be,” Joseph Ferrara, a principal at BFC, told Curbed. “People are drawn to the waterfront. I just feel that that really differentiates us.”

The 340,000-square-foot space is a network of pedestrian plazas and glassy shops with a slew of big name retailers, including Nike Factory, Old Navy, and American Eagle. Twenty-two shops debuted in the space this week with another 18 set to open throughout the spring and summer. Visitors can also sink their teeth into eats from Shake Shack, Mamoun’s Falafel, and Wetzel’s Pretzels, among others.

BFC partners

Attractions will eventually come to Empire Outlets, though they’ve yet to be scheduled, with fashion shows, bands, and even petting zoos potentially on the horizon. “We’re a lifestyle center,” said Ferrara. “We’re all about community here.”

All told, Empire Outlets will feature 100 shops, a 1,250-parking garage, and will eventually boast a 200-room hotel, and bring a boon of 1,200 new jobs to the borough by this summer. It was an uphill battle transforming Empire Outlets, which BFC Partners originally pitched to the city in 2011, from vision to reality. Over the years, the project has been beset with difficulties, including a handful of construction delays that continually pushed its opening date back. Additionally, would-be neighbor the New York Wheel project was killed after years of planning—a massive ferris wheel that would have been major tourist lure.

“This project has been like an oyster that opened up to reveal a beautiful pearl born out of grit and agitation, and lord knows, there was agitation and challenges,” said City Council member Debi Rose, who represents Staten Island’s north shore and worked with BFC through the project’s approval process, at Wednesday’s ribbon cutting ceremony.

Rose, who called Empire Outlets “a major chapter of the north shore renaissance,” touted the project as an economic driver for St. George and the surrounding communities—which are in the midst of rezoning poised to bring thousands of new apartments to the area.

BFC partners

“This is a day to celebrate jobs, economic development, and our future,” Rose said. “It’s a day to celebrate a significant step toward realizing the potential of our north shore water front.”

On Wednesday night, a stream of eager shoppers flooded Empire Outlets. Staten Islanders and visitors from across the boroughs packed into shops, crowded around visiting food stands, and twirled on plastic tulip sculptures that unfold into chairs.

It was worth the years-long wait for one Staten Island woman who lives in St. George and works in Todt Hill as a school crossing guard. “This feels like something out of Midtown. It’s exciting that this is here for us,” said Meredith Corsetti, who was browsing blouses in the Gap after buying a pair of sneakers for her husband at the Nike Factory. “It feels like it has a little something for everybody.”

High school student Yasmeen Ratliff lounged on a lime-green tulip chair admiring the view of New York Harbor as she and a friend decided which shops to check out.

“It’s so nice here. It has real scenery,” said Ratliff, who lives in nearby Stapleton and typically treks across the borough to shopping malls after school. “I told all my friends they’re never going to see me in the Staten Island Mall again.”