Sunday, May 2, 2010

Shops at Atlas Park Struggles to Survive with Summer Sale and Search for Tenants by Nicholas Hirshon - NY Daily News

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Key players in Shops at Atlas Park include City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, attorney Paul Millus, former development director Damon Hemmerdinger and former manager Michael Mattone. Noonan, Hirshon, DelMundo for News

The Shops at Atlas Park will unleash a new weapon during its summertime battle for survival.

The foreclosed Glendale mall - which is expected to be sold at auction next month - has hired a prominent agent to lure tenants ahead of a crucial shopping season for the open-air complex.

The entry of CB Richard Ellis, one of the world's largest commercial real estate firms, ends a 14-month management by Michael Mattone of the Mattone Group, whose contract recently expired.

Next in the Atlas Park saga: a highly anticipated sale - as early as June - that could determine the long-term success of the Cooper Ave. center.

It's also possible that a pact might be struck before the auction date, as teams and players often do prior to drafts in sports leagues.

"It's kind of like the draft," said Paul Millus, the court-appointed lawyer who controls the mall during foreclosure. "Sometimes you have a deal before you start."

Millus said several people have "expressed some measure of interest" in purchasing the mall, though he would not name them.

Community leaders have long figured the mall's founders, the family of former Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Dale Hemmerdinger, would bid on the mall they conceived.

Hemmerdinger's son, Damon, who was the mall's development director from its opening in 2006 through early 2009, declined comment.

A group of Israeli investors is also in the running, with hopes to shape the mall in the mold of the Tanger Outlets on Long Island, said City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village).

Crowley herself wants the City University of New York to offer classes at Atlas Park - a spot she thinks would be convenient for students in southern and western Queens.

Crowley said she will raise the possibility with university bigwigs after the city passes its budget this summer. CUNY officials did not return calls seeking comment.

Whether CUNY would even be welcome at Atlas Park depends on the philosophy of the mall's next owner.

The Hemmerdingers initially billed Atlas Park as a "lifestyle center" with specialty retail stores that many residents bashed as too upscale for the middle-class area.

CB Richard Ellis declined comment on its approach to leasing out the mall. But Atlas Park store owners hailed the entry of the renowned firm, which was the first of its kind in the Fortune 500.

In Queens, the company once leased the Bulova Corporate Center in Jackson Heights and Gertz Plaza in Jamaica. It opened an office last year in Long Island City.

"They're very reputable," said Boris Sorin, an attorney who has represented multiple Atlas Park stores in rent negotiations. "With a new team in place, it's going to bring in new energy and vision."

Mark Gallagher, owner of the mall's Manor Oktoberfest restaurant, called the firm's introduction "absolutely the most positive thing" for Atlas Park.

Gallagher hoped that CB Richard Ellis might sign up a small department store to attract customers - who then might dine at his eatery.

Millus said he is working on bringing a supermarket and "other smaller tenants" to the mall. A Subway franchise and school uniform store are set to open soon, he added.

But the prospective co-owner of a Cuban eatery said he is pulling out after troubles with management. He said he would leave his business partner to go it alone in the critical coming months.

"It's the last chance for the mall," said Kathy Masi, president of the Glendale Civic Association. "I wish it would survive."