By Celia Bernhardt | [email protected]
Cord Meyer announced a major investment in Bay Terrace Shopping Center with celebratory speeches and a ribbon cutting on Oct. 25. Several of Cord Meyer’s leadership spoke at the event, as well as Queens Borough President Donovan Richards and City Councilperson Vickie Paladino.
A crowd of about thirty attendees gathered in the shopping center’s parking lot to celebrate the plans.
“It’s about the future of not only the shopping center, but the future of the neighborhood,” Cord Meyer Vice President and Bay Terrace Project Lead Joe Forgione said to the crowd.
Forgione said that the renovations will include improving pedestrian walkways, building outdoor seating areas, prioritizing dining and recreational spaces and improving the connection between the upper and lower levels of the mall.
Richards celebrated the investment as a way to increase jobs in the area, and as part of a wider upturn in economic development in the borough. “I’m so proud of where we’re headed in Queens County,” Richards said to the crowd. “And this is certainly more of an indication of how much more growth is coming—how we are really thinking strategically about how do we grow our economy.”
Paladino spoke affectionately about Cord Meyer to the crowd, identifying herself as part of the “Cord Meyer family.”
“You’re talking sixty years ago—so I’m just a little older than that,” she said, recalling the shopping center’s past. “I remember coming here when it was just a simple bowling alley, and we had a few shoe stores, and whatever. But it was just small. We watched this grow, and we watched Cord Meyer turn this into a destination.”
Speakers throughout the event made reference to Cord Meyer’s over 100-year-long history in Queens as a developer. Forgione reminded the crowd that “entire neighborhoods,” such as Elmhurst and Forest Hills, had been built by the corporation.
“To Cord Meyer, to Matt, to Joe, to Paul, to all of you: welcome, welcome, welcome,” Paladino said. “Bay Terrace is back.”
Framed as a response to the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic posed to brick and mortar stores, the project is named “Moving Forward.”
Forgione explained that although the growing popularity of online shopping over recent decades was always a cause for concern, Bay Terrace retained a strong customer base until the pandemic hit. Along with plenty of other brick and mortar shopping centers around the nation, the outdoor mall encountered serious challenges.
“You have nationwide closures of stores, you have bankruptcies to deal with—things beyond our control,” Forgione said. “During the pandemic, the company gave away $7 million in rent relief to try to keep tenants going, and still, we ended up with a significant number of vacancies. So from that, we started to do our due diligence, we started researching what other shopping centers were doing across the country…And from that time, we began conversations with our own tenants [about] what we could do for them.
Making the mall both safer and more social and engaging for pedestrians will be a significant part of the development. Prioritizing sectors which consistently draw in-person customers, like dining and athletic facilities, is a part of this, as well as building more outdoor seating and designated spaces for community events.
“That’s really what’s going to tie up all the loose ends and get the tenants to finally lease the space, Forgione said. “So we’ve always had the interest, but this is going to put us over the top and really bring the shopping center back to what it always was.”
The development of the shopping center will take place in phases, according to a Cord Meyer press release. The first phase will involve a “total redesign” of the now-vacant Victoria’s Secret and Applebee’s locations, including the building of a second floor.
Paladino called Bay Terrace the “heartbeat” of Bayside, and said that making it more of a social destination would do well for the mental health and safety of young people in the neighborhood.
“Our young people, they are wandering aimlessly a lot of times at night, sometimes getting into trouble,” Paladino said. “But they do come to Bay Terrace, and there’ll be more for them to do here.”
Cord Meyer CEO, Matthew Whalen, closed out the day’s speeches.
“You know what I love about today?” he asked the crowd. “I love trying to speak loudly over the construction noise of jobs, jobs, jobs.”
Whalen expressed his appreciation for Paladino and Richards for coming together to support the development.
“We don’t agree on everything; we agree on a lot of things,” he said. “But their door has always been open to Cord Meyer, and we appreciate that.”