Read my article published on The Hunts Point Express.
Eateries and chain stores will dominate downscaled project
“This fall, a long-awaited retail mall is finally scheduled to open at 925 Hunts Point Avenue. The finished product will look much different than an ambitious proposal presented to Community Board 2 five years ago, which included mixed-income housing and additional parking for the traffic-clogged corner next to the Bruckner Expressway.
The rounded, gray building at the intersection of Hunts Point Avenue and East 163rd Street will be home to a Red Lobster with the capacity to serve up to 312 customers, a Deals Tree 99 cent store, a McDonald’s, a Boston Market and a Bank of America, all of which have signed leases, according to Mark Brennan, development director at Blumenfeld Development Group Ltd.
On its website, the developer touts the new space’s “high ceilings, abundant signage and secure loading,” in a two-story retail project that can accommodate 10 businesses.
The original plan for The Crossings, as the project is being called, was presented to Board 2 in 2011 by a different developer, the Prusik Group, and included 136 apartments of mixed-income housing along with a parking facility. It was emphatically approved by the board.
However, the housing component was removed from the plan due to a downturn in the market, according to the Prusik Group’s principal and owner, Rohan Mehra. The parking proposal was then removed from the plan as well.
“We worked very hard with the Borough President’s office and (The Department of Housing Preservation and Development) to try and add housing to the development and spent a lot of money on plans and consultants to that end,” said Mehra, in an email to The Express. He went on to explain that the housing part of the plan would have required the developer to purchase the vacant lot at 985 Bruckner Blvd., next to 925 Hunts Point Avenue; yet his firm was unwilling to pay what the owner of that lot was asking.
“We knew the community really wanted more housing but the property owner was intractable,” Mehra said, and added that when the housing component was scuttled, additional parking was no longer required in the scaled-down project.
Some in the neighborhood say new shops would be welcome on the site of what had previously been a BP gas station, as long as they provide products and services residents need.
“If they bring stores that we currently don’t have any of here, that would be pretty great,” said the chair of Community Board 2’s Economic Development committee, Maria Torres. However, Torres cautioned that the new developer’s choice to bring in another dollar store is of questionable value to the neighborhood.
“We don’t need another 99 cent store,” she said. “It would be great to see other options for people to be able to shop.”
Yaya Sanogo, who owns Westman Music across from the site, said he is looking forward to seeing the Red Lobster and Dunkin’ Donuts open. Those franchises are listed on a posting of future tenants outside the Crossings’ construction site.
“We can benefit because people are going to come for them, and we are going to profit, too,” said Sanogo.
William Feldman, president of the Southern Boulevard Business Improvement District, agreed that a sit down restaurant could give local businesses a boost, since it would be open late and customers who come to dine there may opt to shop locally.
“I wish they are very successful because that side of 163rd street has always been a very slow side for retailing. So if they can get that side to be more active, it would be great for the area,” said Feldman.
Rosa Sánchez, who has sold ices and other snacks from a food cart at the corner of East 163rd Street and Southern Boulevard for over a year, said she is looking forward to the diverse shopping and new customers the new businesses may bring.
“There’s only clothing shops around here. Any kind of restaurant would be nice,” Sánchez said.
But some prominent Hunts Point boosters are troubled at the dwindling of the project from a robust, multi-layered proposal to something significantly less than that, without community input. The chair of Board 2, Dr. Ian Amritt, said that both the developers and the Red Lobster representatives have been evasive about meeting with the board to discuss their progress.
“They came to us with the plan for housing, those plans changed and they’ve not come back,” said Amritt. He referred to the mid-project switch in development companies as an “entirely confusing situation.”
Feldman said new parking was a feature he had looked forward to before that part of the plan disappeared.
“I was very disappointed when I heard there was no parking. That’s something that is really needed in the area,” he said.”