By Daniel Massey
A major new shopping center celebrated its grand opening Friday in Elmhurst, creating over 500 permanent jobs at a time when more than 100,000 New Yorkers are out of work due to the Twin Towers disaster.
The new 450,000-square-foot mall, known as Queens Place, is located at the site of the former Stern’s Department Store on Queens Boulevard between 55th and 56th avenues.
Representatives of the center’s leading retailers joined elected officials, community leaders and Bruce C. Ratner, president and chief executive officer of Forest City Ratner Companies, the developer of the mall, for the ribbon-cutting marking the official opening of the six-level, $100 million facility.
“The opening is more important now than ever because of all the jobs it will create,” said Melinda Katz, director of community boards for Queens, who was representing Borough President Claire Shulman at the event.
“The stores in Queens Place will offer shoppers from all over Queens outstanding values, fabulous selection and tremendous convenience,” said Ratner. “This holiday season Queens Place will be the place to shop.”
A 230,000-square-foot Target store, the largest in the world, anchors the shopping center. Other major retailers include Best Buy, Macy’s Furniture Gallery, Designer Shoe Warehouse, Daffy’s, Rockaway Bedding, Skechers shoe store and Sprint. Among the food and beverage establishments are Outback Steakhouse, Starbucks Coffee and Mrs. Fields Cookies.
Work on the center began in May 2000. Redevelopment of the site involved renovating the interior of the existing 260,000-square-foot department store structure, which was last occupied by Stern’s in 1999 and adding two levels, one for retail space and the other for storage and administrative space. Five levels of parking were refurbished and a sixth parking level was added, creating space for 1,400 vehicles.
Retail tenants began moving into the center this past summer. The opening of the Target store in October provided a much-needed lift to the borough, according to Katz.
“At a time when the city is anxious to create more jobs, this center is creating more than 500 jobs, most of which are going to Queens residents,” she said.
The Manhattan-based Fiscal Policy Institute estimated 108,500 jobs were lost in the city in the month following the Sept. 11 assaults on the World Trade Center.
According to state Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry (D-Corona), Queens Place is creating jobs in the community. “ I saw individuals who live in this neighborhood working here,” he said.
Katz said the opening was also a boon to the economic development of Queens. She said the shopping center would play a leading role in “bringing business back to Queens.”
Albert Ratner, chief executive officer of Forest City Enterprises, the Cleveland-based company of which Forest City Ratner Companies is an affiliate, said he had full confidence the center would succeed, even in the difficult economic climate resulting from the Sept. 11 attacks.
“Nobody can keep New York down,” he said. “The strength of New York has always been in its boroughs. We’re proud of this development because it gives people who live in the neighborhood the opportunity to live and shop like everyone else.”
Reach reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.