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With no Wal-Mart, new mall planned for Rego Park site

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"Our goal is to focus on what's already here and enhance it," said Stanton Eckstut. chief architect for the project, at Community Board 6's March 9 meeting.Plans for the site, now primarily a parking lot off Queens Boulevard flanked by Queens Center and Rego Park Mall, calls for 650,000 square feet of retail space and 450,000 square feet of residential space in the form of two apartment towers.Vornado's project manager, Michael Berfield, said Century 21 department stores was the retailer with which Vornado was conducting the most active negotiations for the retail space."I think they'd be a great tenant for the site," he said.Messages left for Century 21 seeking comment went unreturned.Some 50 people attended the meeting in contrast to the well over 100 residents who turned out for a civic meeting on Wal-Mart's interest in the site. The CB 6 district manager attributed the decline to Vornado's dropping negotiations with Wal-Mart, whose controversial plans to open its first city store in Rego Park ignited an uproar from labor, government and civic officials who saw the world's largest retailer as a threat to workers' rights and small business."A lot of people thought this was a Wal-Mart project and stopped caring as much when they heard it was gone," CB 6 District Manager Kathleen Histon said. Still, the 50 who came out last week were far from indifferent to the project."If this mall comes in, most of our stores will go out of business," said Jim Galloway, coordinator of the Lefrak City Merchants' Association that represents 72 merchants in Corona. Other chief concerns include traffic buildup along the site's borders - Horace Harding Expressway, 62nd Drive, Junction Boulevard and 97th Street - as well as the subsequent shortage of parking.To ease the ebb and flow of traffic, Vornado would widen streets, add turning lanes and reserve entrances on certain streets for residents or shoppers, according to Philip Habib, the Vornado-contracted engineer in charge of traffic analysis. The complex would contain around 300 parking spaces for residents and 1,100 for customers, which is comparable to the 1,200 spaces now available at the Rego Park mall, Habib said.Before construction can begin, Vornado needs several zoning variances approved by the board, including building height and setback allowances as well as permission to have a fairly small number of parking spaces to service such a large retail complex.Some in attendance thought the site could be put to better use, such as a youth facility or affordable housing.The board is scheduled to vote on the project April 13. If approved, construction would tentatively run from 2006 to 2008. According to Eckstut, in addition to the buildings, a 50-foot-wide tree-lined walkway would run down the middle of the complex, give pedestrians strolling rights to window shop as well as easier access to the other malls.Reach reporter Zach Patberg by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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