Facelift for Concourse Plaza

By Joshua Colon

Concourse Plaza, which was the first suburban-style mall to be built in the South Bronx, is scheduled to undergo major changes in the upcoming months.

The mall, which is located in the Concourse Village section of Melrose, first opened in 1992 at a cost of $150 million. In its early years, the shopping center symbolized the area’s quest for economic well-being. Crowds overflowed its stores from all over the South Bronx, even if some couldn’t afford to shop. But over the past decade, the number of crowds and shoppers has declined.

Concourse Plaza has had its share of issues. The development of the Gateway Mall just a few blocks away from Yankee Stadium has had an adverse impact on the mall.

Its owner, the Feil Organization, is planning a major renovation to the shopping center. Work will include “both a physical facelift and a revamping of the center and will create new space available for retail, restaurant and entertainment tenants.”

The shopping center will include around a dozen retail stores, a bank, a major chain store and a renovated movie theater with more screens. It will be located in the same facility with a newly renovated food court. The current CVS pharmacy will remain. Additional renovations will include two department stores and the recently opened Blink Fitness, a gymnasium.

The renovation has been met with mixed emotions around the neighborhood surrounding the 228,000-square-foot shopping center. Many residents really don’t understand exactly what is happening with the mall. There have been rumors that it was closing permanently because of drugs and other illegal activities. “I was told that they were closing because of prostitution and people selling drugs at night,” said Zulma Gonzalez, 61.  Gonzalez lives on 163rd street and Sherman Avenue, a block or so away from the shopping center, and frequents it daily.

Fernando, who declined to give his last name, 85, lives on Morris Avenue, near the shopping center. The eighty-five-year-old said, “You see a lot of strange things going on at night around the area.” He also believed it was being shut down.

“I knew that they weren’t going to shut this place down,” said shopper Maria Gomez, 41, who lives on the Grand Concourse. “People listen to rumors instead of just checking it out for themselves.” Gomez added that she is happy to hear about the renovations because the mall is old and pales in comparison to its competition, the nearby Gateway Center.

When reached, Randy Briskin, the vice president of leasing for the Feil Organization, said these rumors were in fact false. He said the newly renovated mall is scheduled for completion by 2014 and will cost upwards of $100 million.

The company has not been very effective at getting out this message to the neighborhood or to some working in the shopping center.

Robert, 25, an employee of Easy Pickens in the mall, blamed the closure rumors for the store’s loss of business. People think that the shopping center is closing and they aren’t coming in, he said.  Some employees at the mall are also unclear on the mall’s future, he said.  “We were told that the food court was closing, but they didn’t give us a specific date or any other information. They just said soon. Right now everything is up in the air. All I know is that eventually we will have to relocate to another part of the mall.”

Jennifer Santos, 22, an employee at RadioShack, said that the renovations, while good for the mall in the long term, are affecting business. “People who used to come in are no longer coming in and shopping.” When asked about any plans to relocate or close the store, Jennifer she said, “Even though we are obviously losing business, we will not be relocating anywhere.”

For some stores within the mall, business remains the same or has been affected less than others. Grace, 27, manager of Rent-A-Center said, “When it comes to us and our business, we interact with customers over the phone. They can come in and check what we have for sale in regards to appliances and furniture but in the end, all business is done over the phone.”

Jonathan Rivera, 29, who lives near the mall, said any temporary downturn is unfortunate, but acceptable, given the ultimate benefits. “It is sad to see people losing their jobs, but with the redevelopment or renovation of the mall, this area will see an increase in value,” he said.

The Feil Organization said the Concourse Plaza renovation is part of a larger effort to rejuvenate the ‘Yankee Stadium Corridor’ at 161rd Street. “Due to the proximity to Yankee Stadium and the large residential community, this well-visited, highly-visible neighborhood is seeing an upsurge in retail, office, and restaurant venues,” said Randall Briskin, Director of Commercial Leasing. “The Feil Organization recognizes the need for these improvements at Concourse Plaza and we are excited to bring them to the area.”



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