Since its grand opening on May 15, New York City’s first outlet mall has only 26 of its 75 storefront spaces currently filled.
The entire fourth floor of Staten Island’s Empire Outlets is currently closed off and vast wings of the mall are not open yet, under construction, or simply just adorned with signs that read “Do Not Enter.”
The shopping center, connected to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, has so far inked deals with Nordstrom Rack, H&M, Brooks Brothers, Shake Shack and other stores and restaurants. But area advocates continue to cast a wary eye on the project.
“We want to see more than retail outlets for our waterfronts,” said Kelly Vilar, the founder and CEO of the local development group Staten Island Urban Center. She added, “We don’t know if retail will be around in the years to come.”
‘Does Seem Like a Ghost Town’
The outlet mall, from developer Donald Capoccia’s firm BFC Partners, has been in the works for about seven years. The 340,000-square-foot complex features sweeping views of lower Manhattan, New Jersey and Brooklyn.
That vista cost $350 million — with $47 million being subsidized by state government — and the new mall has been touted as a key part of the borough’s “North Shore renaissance” by elected officials.
A spokesperson for Empire Outlets told THE CITY that “the vast majority” of shops at the mall has already been leased, but did not provide a number or timeline for their opening.
“Empire Outlets has played a central role in the revitalization of Staten Island’s North Shore and is quickly becoming one of New York’s top shopping destinations for local residents and tourists from throughout the world,” BFC spokesperson Sam Spokony said in a statement. He added that the fourth floor will be open in the fall, but gave no details.
Visitors offered less extravagant words. “Some of it is very nice, but this part does seem like a ghost town,” said Melissa Owttrim, a 24-year-old visiting New York City from Toronto, while sitting next to an unopened Guess store with her friends on Monday.
Empire was initially supposed to be anchored by Lighthouse Point — a $200 million mixed-use development — and a giant Ferris wheel, but that nearly $1 billion project fell apart in 2018 due to cost overruns. The city’s Economic Development Corporation is reportedly trying to save the projectwith new investors.
Electeds Optimistic on Outcomes
Some Staten Island elected officials defended the empty outlet mall, seeing hope in the future.
“I remain optimistic that when all is said and done, Empire Outlets will be thriving, a source of growing optimism on our Island, and an instigator of future investment on the North Shore,” said Staten Island Borough President James Oddo in a statement.
Oddo also said that he is confident that Empire Outlets will eventually be fully leased out, “but this will happen in a staggered fashion.”
North Shore Councilmember Debi Rose said that “while I would love to see all of the stores open, I understand that development takes time, and I think the outlets are off to a great start.”
The spokesperson for Empire Outlets said that 160,000 visitors came to the mall on its opening weekend in May and that the mall plans to continue to announce openings on a rolling basis.
“New Yorkers can look forward to seeing even more openings throughout the fall and winter, including the launch of Staten Island’s first-ever artisanal food hall,” said Spokony.
‘Just Came Here for the View’
Members of Staten Island’s business community told THE CITY that before Empire Outlets opened in St. George this year, tourists and Staten Islanders alike paid little attention to the neighborhood.
“For 40 years that area was a dead site — nothing was happening there,” said Cesar Claro, president of the Staten Island Economic Development Corporation. “Now they have food, a DJ, even theater.”
Claro said that that Empire Outlets’ proximity to the Staten Island ferry makes it hard to fail.
“For 40 years — you talk to anybody out here — the tourists would take the ferry and get off and get right back on,” said Claro.
Steve Wong, an 18-year-old Port Richmond resident, wasn’t so sure.
“I just came here for the view,” Wong said. “If I’m going to shop, I’ll usually just buy it off Amazon.”
This story was originally published by THE CITY, an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.