Plans to build the East River Plaza, a retail mall complex, on the site of the former Washburn Wire factory in East Harlem, have been in the works for many years. In 1996 Blumenfeld Development Group, Ltd. (BDG) purchased the site. The site was rezoned in 1999, changing the zoning from an M2-2 to a C4-4 to allow for commercial growth. From the time of the rezoning till 2004 when Forest City Ratner Company (FCRC) bought a stake in the development, the project was stalled. Both FCRC and BDG will develop the site.
East River Plaza is located off the FDR Highway between 116th and 119th Streets. According to Forest City Ratner, the new commercial development could bring between 1200-2000 permanent retail jobs to the East Harlem community in addition to about 2000 construction jobs needed to build the facility over two years. The developers have expressed a commitment to working with the local communities as the project moves forward, and working with the community to ensure that local residents are hired for the new jobs created.
The facility contains roughly 485,000 square feet of leasable retail space and will offer over 1200 on-site parking spaces for visitors. According to floor plans, the facility will contain five levels of mall space over six acres of land. The parking garage will be adjacent to the shopping area and will be approximately the same height as the shopping center. The developers are marketing the site to large box store retail chains because of the expansive floor space. Costco, Target, Best Buy and Marshalls have all agreed to be tenants in the new facility. In March of 2008, Home Depot, which has already signed a lease for 100,000 square feet of retail space at East River Plaza, said that they are considering subleasing their space to Costco.
Most of the project is located in a federally designated Empowerment Zone (FEZ), which focuses on sustainable economic growth in less affluent communities. When the FEZ was created, both New York City and New York State agreed to match the federal funding. The Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Corporation was created to administer the program. Since the project is in the empowerment zone, various tax incentives and other public funding may be available both for tenants and the developers who are building East River Plaza to encourage economic development and growth.
East River Plaza is scheduled to open in October 2009 and is expected to cost $440 million. The mall’s façade was designed by architect Kevin Roche and is expected to be wrapped in a steel-mesh American flag.