Staten Island residents and visitors got their first glimpse of the new Empire Outlets on Wednesday evening, when the long-planned outlet mall opened its doors to the public.
Representatives for developer BFC Partners lauded the project as a new chapter for the borough.
“Time and again … we hear the familiar refrain describing Staten Island as the ‘forgotten borough,’” BFC principal Donald Capoccia said. “Well today, that narrative changes with the opening of Empire Outlets.”
The approximately 340,000-square-foot shopping center, which is steps from the St. George Ferry Terminal, houses around 100 shops and eateries, some of which — including Nike Factory, H&M, Gap Factory, Columbia Sporting Goods, Old Navy and Banana Republic — are now open. Other retailers, including Nordstrom Rack, American Eagle Outfitters and Crocs, will open their doors throughout the spring and summer.
Mamoun’s Falafel, Shake Shack, Ghirardelli Chocolate, Nathan’s Famous, Häagen-Dazs, an outdoor food court called MRKTPL and a beer garden that seats 500 people are among the culinary offerings.
The mall is slated to bring a total of 1,200 new jobs to the borough by midsummer, Capoccia said.
Seth Myers, the executive vice president and director of project implementation for the city’s Economic Development Corporation, touted the shopping center as a hub that will draw visitors to other notable sites on the island, including the Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden, St. George Theatre and Richmond County Bank Ballpark, which is home to the Staten Island Yankees.
Around 70,000 passengers commute via the Staten Island Ferry each day, Myers noted.
“EDC’s goal was to make St. George a destination, not just a thoroughfare,” he said. “And today … we are realizing that vision.”
The project hasn’t been without its setbacks, as several speakers noted at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Empire Outlets’ originally scheduled 2016 opening was pushed back several times; a 630-foot observation wheel called the New York Wheel was set to rise alongside the mall, but funding issues and disagreements led to its demise. Superstorm Sandy, meanwhile, forced the developers to redesign the project with an eye toward “resiliency,” Capoccia said.
The project was also met with criticism by “naysayers” who “said it couldn’t be done,” according to state Sen. Diane Savino, whose district includes the North Shore of Staten Island.
“They laughed at it, they scoffed, they said, ‘Staten Islanders don’t want it. People will never come here. It will be ugly. It will never work.’ Look what they’ve done,” Savino said. “This is absolutely beautiful.”
The shopping center’s walkways provide skyline views of Manhattan, Brooklyn and New Jersey. And while Empire Outlets is accessible by ferry, it also has a 1,250-space parking garage.
“Staten Island is already a wonderful place to live — we have wonderful cultural institutions, parks, restaurants, the Yankees, and now we have a place to shop. And so I encourage you, forget about Jersey Gardens, Woodbury Commons, keep it on Staten Island,” Assemb. Charles Fall said.
For residents who have been walking past a construction site since the developers broke ground in 2015, Wednesday evening’s opening was long awaited.
“I live down the block, so I’ve been waiting for years to check it out,” Staten Island resident Crystal Mulligan, 24, said. “It’s pretty exciting.”