From Parking Lot to Outlet Mall: A Timeline of Staten Island’s Empire Outlets

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It took nearly seven years of planning and construction, but New York City’s first outlet mall—Empire Outlets—held its grand opening today on Staten Island’s waterfront.

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The 1.1-million-square-foot Empire Outlets debuted with nearly 30 stores and food options with plans to open the rest in phases throughout the summer, according to developer BFC Partners. All told, the project will have 100 shops, a 1,250-parking garage and eventually house a 200-room hotel.

“First impressions are everything for us here,” Joseph Ferrara, a principal at BFC, said in an interview the day before the opening. “We get one shot to get it right.”

The $360 million Empire Outlets journey started in 2012 when the New York City Economic Development Corporation put out a request for expressions of interest to redevelop two parking lots adjacent to the St. George Ferry Terminal. Ferrara—a Staten Islander himself—and his partners quickly came up with a proposal to build an outlet mall along with office buildings on the site.

“My daughter has dance competitions and my wife used to pull me into some outlet shops,” said Ferrara. “I thought, ‘Why not propose New York City’s first and only outlet center here?’ The city loved the idea and it keeps tax dollars downstate in New York.”

However, the office component of BFC’s pitch never materialized as the EDC paired the project with the ill-fated New York Wheel—by a different development team—which aimed to be the world’s tallest observation wheel.

“They kind of married us,” Ferrara said. “I obviously took full advantage of that marriage.”

Despite the wheel developers killing the project last year, Ferrara remains confident that his project will succeed. He pointed to the fact the vast majority of retailers that leased space in the project have remained on board with only a few dropping out along the way.

But Empire Outlets had to get through community board meetings, City Council votes, an ever-changing retail environment and numerous construction delays before it could take over the St. George waterfront.

“It’s a very complicated construction build,” Ferrara said. “We sit on top and adjacent to one of the most trafficked commuter hubs, from the Staten Island Ferry to [Staten Island’s] one train.”

And throughout it all, Ferrara had to learn to not read the comments left on news articles about the project, especially since he made it a point that Empire Outlets doesn’t just serve tourists but also Staten Islanders as well.

“We take it really, really personally when someone has derogatory comments,” he said.

“I want to impress the borough,” he added. “I want Empire Outlets to be a place where Staten Islanders can come and call it their own.”