A new park opened last Saturday in Glendale at a site that was one of New York City’s largest manufacturing centers. The ceremony gave community members a glimpse of The Shops At Atlas Park, an upscale retail center that should be complete by the spring of 2006.
The event at the 2.5-acre park drew nearly 2,000 people throughout the day and included a greenmarket, a crafts market, a performance by the Queens Symphony Orchestra and opening remarks by the center’s developer, H. Dale Hemmerdinger, City Councilman Dennis Gallagher and State Senator Serphin Maltese.
“It’s important to us that you know who we are, where we are and what we’re going to look like,” Hemmerdinger said to the crowd. “This is our gift to the community.”
The site is owned by Atco Properties & Management, of which Hemmerdinger is president. His son, Damon, is the development director of the project.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, dozens of children gathered in the middle of the park and a fountain, which will be the development’s centerpiece, was turned on for the first time.
The opening was the kickoff of a summer series called “The Park Meets The Arts,” which will include performances and events for children every Saturday through the end of September.
The series is a way for the developer to give back to the community and also a public relations strategy to introduce the planned 375,000-square-foot retail and office project, located at 8000 Cooper Avenue.
Summer events will be held at “The Green,” the park around which the retail complex will be located.
Surrounding the open space, a skeleton of the $180-million, 12-acre project is visible. By next spring it will consist of approximately 75 retail stores and restaurants and 1,600 parking spaces in two garages. The plan also includes an eight-screen movie theater.
Altogether, eight new buildings are being constructed. In addition to “The Green,” there will also be two other parks.
The plan is not for the complex to be another shopping mall. Rather, Atlas Park is being touted as “New York City’s first lifestyle retail center.” With open spaces, whitewashed architecture and terraces, the development is modeled on European villages.
The goal is to woo upscale tenants and shoppers from the surrounding communities of Forest Hills, Rego Park, Elmhurst, Maspeth, Middle Village, Glendale, Ridgewood and Woodhaven. There are 128,000 households within a 3.5-mile radius that earn more than $75,000 a year, according to the developers.
So far, only about 25 percent of the retail spaces have been rented. Confirmed tenants include Coldstone Creamery ice cream, Coldwater Creek, a women’s clothing store, The Bombay Company and Claire’s accessories.
Judging from the reaction of those who attended, the plan to familiarize residents with Atlas Park without associating it with shopping, paid off.
“It’s going to be a big improvement for the neighborhood,” said Frank Wyszinski, who lives within walking distance of the site. “They’re going to bring some money and life into the neighborhood.”
The complex is estimated to recover about $6 million in tax revenue that New York City is losing to Nassau County and create nearly 2,000 jobs. Of those, 750 will be permanent.
“The key question is who the retailers are and how many employees they will have,” said Vincent Arcuri Jr., chairperson of Community Board 5. “Right now, for old guys like me, who are retired, and young kids, these are the kinds of jobs we need.”
Like most large-scale changes to the community, there were a number of people concerned about the impact of the project.
“We have so much traffic already, and now we’re talking about more noise and pollution,” said Maria Lopilato, who has lived in the area for 50 years. “What about our quality of life here?”
Lopilato and others say that the construction itself has increased the amount of truck traffic in residential areas of the community.
A number of community leaders, including Councilman Gallagher, said that the Hemmerdingers have been good neighbors, and worked closely with the community, going so far as to pay for traffic studies around the site.
Some of the plans to mitigate problems include adding a traffic light on Cooper Avenue and 80th Street, more traffic signs along 84th Street and Doran Avenue, creating new turning lanes and rerouting the Q54 bus so it stops closer to the development.
In addition to traffic concerns, some residents were apprehensive about increased noise and trash, as well as the impact of the new retail stores on local merchants.
“If you’re born and raised here you want to see progress but you also want the community to stay nice,” said Doris Figliola, who hoped a much-needed post office would be added to the plans.
The Atlas Terminal site has been in the Hemmerdinger family since 1922 when Dale Hemmerdinger’s grandfather, Henry, purchased the land. At that time there were two industrial buildings and a farm house on the property.
It became a heavily utilized industrial center by the 1950s, connected by rail to the city’s major freight lines. In addition to textile, furniture and mattress manufacturing, a knitting mill was located on the premises. In 2002, the mill was the last factory to close.
Because Atlas Park is a former industrial site, the development company qualified for tax credits for the cleanup of the area and even the cost of building and other improvements to the property. It was one of the first developers in New York State to participate in the new brownfield program that helps the private sector convert former industrial sites into other uses. The cleanup of the soil is now complete.
The amount of the tax credit was not released, but the legislation limits it to 22 percent of the cost of improvements. The final figure is based on the number of jobs created by the development, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
Since Atlas is zoned for industrial use, anything could have been built on the site. Many residents said the shopping center is one of the better scenarios.
“I’m glad to see some upscale stores and nice restaurants instead of a McDonald’s,” said Jerry Wilkat. “This will beautify the area without a doubt.”
Lillian Buksa agreed. “It’s nice the way they have everything outside. It’s a welcome change from the malls.”
For Hemmerdinger, who has been working on the project for more than five years, those were exactly the responses he had hoped for.
“People are usually very reluctant to see change,” he said. “The fact that people have come together today is very important. The best part is they actually like what they see.”