Three years in the making, construction began this week in a massive $200-million expansion plan for Queens Center Mall in Elmhurst.
The first step was the removal of the muni-meters, which were located in a parking lot across from the mall on 59th Avenue and 92nd Street—the site of the expanded four-floor facility.
A portion of the lot has been torn up by construction crews and the area has been fenced off from the mall’s primary, 622-spot parking facility on 92nd Street.
For the time being, visitors to the mall, as well as commuters who park their vehicles in the lot and take the G or R subway lines elsewhere, must pay a flat fee of $4 before 9:30 a.m. on weekdays or $2 at all other times.
The expansion plan involved a major zoning change for the municipal lot, which was previously city-owned. The lot is now managed by the mall.
John Genovese, senior vice president of Macerich Co., a Santa Monica-based company that owns and manages several malls across the country, said only minimal site work will occur on the property until Spring the earliest.
Under the proposed redevelopment plan, the mall will expand utilizing a two-level bridge, which will span 92nd Street, and connect the original mall with the new structure.
The bridge will be outfitted with a number of retail stores and designed for pedestrian traffic.
Parking lost in the expansion will be compensated by a new 7-story, 840-space garage near 57th Avenue.
According to the plan, vehicles will be able to connect to the new parking facility using the existing one on 59th Avenue, enabling customers to move from one structure to another.
Both parking facilities will be manned by security.
In an effort to reduce heavy congestion on the roads surrounding the mall, the plan calls for two new entrances on 92nd Street and a drop-off lane on either side of the street.
The mall’s new wing, estimated at 421,700 square feet, will be anchored by a 202,000-square-foot JC Penney’s.
The department store will be relocating from its current 137,000-square-foot location in the existing mall.
Between 75 and 90 new stores are set for the new Queens Center, although the names of the businesses have yet to be announced.
“After we bought the property in December of 1995 we studied the market, consulted with our existing tenants, and sent our management staff to the mall to talk with customers and discovered there was a desire to add new space,” Genovese said.
As part of a major remodeling phase of the existing 605,000-square-foot facility, JC Penney’s previous site will be converted into retail space.
The mall opened in 1973 and was renovated and expanded to add a fourth level in 1990.
Complying with a request from former Borough President Claire Shulman, both the original and the new mall will have a unified and cohesive design.
The remodeling project will include updating the food court and other public areas, adding new flooring, lighting, seating, and improvements to the interior traffic flow.
The fourth-floor atrium will undergo the biggest change, as the plan calls for the addition of a skylight to introduce daylight.
The expansions and renovations are set to be finished by the end of 2004.
When the plan is completed, the mall will be a total of 1,026,700 square feet.
Although the plan has received the proper variances and the go-ahead from Community Board 4 and the Borough President’s Office, some still argue that the expansion will worsen traffic problems.
Nick Pennachio, a Rego Park resident who served on a task force Shulman created to monitor the Queens Center area, called the areas traffic “hell.”
Local residents point to several controversial traffic changes made by the Department of Transportation over a year ago.
The biggest source of distress, Pennachio said, was the conversion of 57th Avenue into a one-way street from Junction Boulevard to Queens Boulevard, except for a stretch from 90th to 92nd Streets.
“It’s fouled up the whole community,” he said.
Genovese, however, said he doesn’t expect the construction to aggravate the area’s traffic.
“We are continuing to work with the DOT and the local community groups to do any tweaking to the traffic plan, if it is necessary,” he said.
Members of the task force were scheduled to meet with the community board and the management and owners of the mall late Wednesday evening.
Details of the meeting were not available at press time.