By Holly Dutton
The future looks bright for the outer boroughs, even the perennially last-place Bronx, which is set to capitalize on several upcoming projects.
Marlene Cintron, who has helped leverage more than $80 million to support current and prospective business in the Bronx since she was named president of the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation and the Business Initiative Corporation of New York in 2010, was adamant at a Women’s SIG panel at the ICSC NY Conference Monday that the borough is on the brink of big changes.
“The Bronx is not the next Brooklyn,” she said. “The Bronx is the Bronx.”
Cintron pointed out that big-box stores have been hugely successful in the borough, with the JC Penney in Baychester the number one JC Penney store in the nation, the Target by the Grand Concourse the #3 in the nation, and the BJ’s Wholesale Club near the Grand Concourse the #3 performing store in the country. All three chains are expanding and opening new stores in the future in the Bronx.
But in terms of what’s been transforming the Bronx, it was more about what’s to come rather than what’s happened.
“The Bronx doesn’t have a lot to brag about because we’ve been working,” said Cintron.
She went on to list a slew of new retail developments in the works, including national chain Sports Authority, a second Macy’s, a Buffalo Wild Wings, Bank of America, a national Mexican restaurant chain that she could not yet name, and another BJ’s.
One of the biggest upcoming projects is the first suburban-style mall to be built in New York City in the past four decades. The Mall at Bay Plaza is 780,000 s/f and is scheduled for completion next year.
A big question posed is why the Bronx does not have a full-service hotel, the answer usually given is that “they don’t see the market for it,” according to Cintron.
However the first boutique hotel, Opera House Hotel, by the Empire Hotel Group, opened in August in the South Bronx and filled up so fast, that there wasn’t an open room to show borough president Ruben Diaz, Jr. when he came to visit, said Cintron. With rents and hotel prices much less expensive than other parts of the city, and the ease of public transit, not to mention additional parking, Cintron is hoping that new projects will help bring in more residents.
“The Bronx actually had an increase in residents in the last census,” she said. “We’re looking to focus on mixed-income housing and the majority of projects we have we want to make sure we balance for hipsters, upper income, and moderate-income.”
As the borough that seems to always be last in line behind ever-popular Brooklyn and Queens for young people, the question over the Bronx becoming a hotspot for residents and retail ultimately lies with the residents.
“You need a lot of young people to attract retail, bars and nightlife,” said Cintron. “We need to convince young people going to colleges in the Bronx to stay.”
In a borough that has some of the poorest areas in the city, notably in the South Bronx, and more affluent areas, like Riverdale, attracting residents will be “all about the pockets.”
Until there are young people moving in droves to the Bronx, the demand for certain retail simply does not exist.
Meanwhile, industry execs in Brooklyn and Queens have found success with the “local and artisanal” vibe for retail.
At the Women’s SIG panel moderated by Douglas Elliman chairman Faith Consolo, Patricia Dunphy, senior VP of development and leasing at Rockrose, a development firm that has been instrumental in transforming the Long Island City waterfront, said that the company is looking for small retailers for the waterfront area so residents won’t have to travel to other boroughs.
Jamestown Properties’ director of leasing Caroline Pardo, who was instrumental in bringing commercial tenants to DUMBO, is now focused on Industry City in Sunset Park.
“A lot of companies looking to open their first office in New York City are now looking to go to Brooklyn instead of Manhattan,” said Pardo at the panel.
With six million square feet of space on the South Brooklyn waterfront in Industry City, Pardo said there are opportunities for larger big-box stores and smaller retailers.