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Deal signed to turn Flushing Caldor site into mall

A lease agreement has been signed to turn the rundown Caldor property in the heart of downtown Flushing into a mall, but the deal has not yet been closed.

John Chen, president of 724 Management Corp., entered a contract to purchase the Vornado Realty Trust’s 25-year lease for $19 million in early May with the goal of opening a mall called Flushing Expo.

But the transaction has not been finalized, said David Rosenberg, a leasing agent for Robert K. Futterman and Associates LLC, which handles the Caldor property.

“It’s not a done deal,” Rosenberg cautioned.

A closing date has been tentatively scheduled for September.

Chen said he hoped to open about half of the mall’s stores in the middle of October.

“It’s going to be like any of the shopping centers or shopping malls,” Chen said. “We are going to have a dancing studio, and hopefully we are going to bring in a fitness center. But I’m not sure how it’s going to wind up.”

The 160,000-square-foot property, which fronts Roosevelt Avenue between Union and Main Streets, has three floors plus a basement level. 724 Management is planning to have 70 to 100 tenants, including a food court.

“Our goal is really to make the place family-oriented,” Chen said. “We try to put up a children’s day-care facility on the third floor.”

724 Management currently owns and operates a 250-unit condominium on Kissena Boulevard in downtown Flushing, Chen said.

The Flushing Caldor shut down in 1999 when the company went bankrupt. Two years earlier the F.W. Woolworth dime store on the corner of Roosevelt and Main Street closed, leaving Stern’s as the only major department store in the area.

But since 1999, downtown Flushing’s malls and department stores have rebounded. Macy’s has replaced Stern’s, Old Navy moved into the vacant Woolworth’s site in September, and the Flushing Mall opened on 39th Avenue in December.

Nevertheless, even if the deal is sealed, Chen’s company has a major hurdle to overcome, said one Flushing developer.

Wellington Chen, who is with TDC Development and Construction, said his group struggled to secure national tenants for their Flushing Mall project.

“He encountered the same difficulty,” Wellington Chen said of John Chen.

Wellington Chen was doubtful that John Chen would be able to open the mall in October.

“I wish him luck,” he said. “It requires a lot of effort.”

But John Chen said he thought the Flushing Expo would succeed where the Flushing Mall had failed.

“We are very confident,” he said. “It’s a prime location.”

John Chen said his organization had secured 10 tenants so far, including a Christian bookstore, a watch and jewelry store, and a discount store.

He said he hoped to bring in a few national chains such as Barnes & Noble, but he had yet to broker a solid deal.

“If they want to come, they are certainly welcome,” John Chen said.

Wellington Chen also noted that John Chen would have to drum up community support.

Marilyn Bitterman, district manager of Community Board 7, which covers Flushing, Whitestone, College Point and Bay Terrace, said John Chen had yet to reach out to the community.

“The comments we’ve gotten from people is that they don’t want another mall,” she said. “They want a legitimate department store.”

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.

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