Hilton Garden Inn - Stony Brook
Mall owners want breezy restoration

Town is not sure outdoor stores are right for Smithtown
By Justin Petrone
August 18, 2004 | 10:01 AM
Citing the need to give the Smith Haven Mall a "shot in the arm," mall owners Simon Property Group Inc. of Indianapolis, Indiana filed an application with the Town of Smithtown July 27 for a $64 million facelift that will turn the former Stern's department store into a pedestrian-friendly "lifestyle village" with retail shops and restaurants.

"Our customers have been asking for the mall to be renovated for quite sometime. It's still attractive but it's a little dated," said Les Morris, a spokesperson for the nationwide property giant, which acquired the mall nine years ago. "We have some extra parking space and an empty department store that we would like to turn into a lifestyle-village concept, which has proven so popular across the country," he added.

Morris said that under current plans the area would feature a Dick's Sporting Goods store, a yet-to-be-named bookstore, and a number of retailers and restaurants, all connected by an outdoor pedestrian mall.

Morris said the "lifestyle center" layout is very popular and similar to recent upgrades at other Simon-owned malls across the country.

While the 35-year-old mall is bisected by the boundary between the Town of Smithtown and the Village of Lake Grove in the Town of Brookhaven, the area slated for redevelopment lies within Smithtown's boundaries.

Smithtown Planning Director Frank DeRubeis said it is likely that it would take the town half a year to consider the application, which came with a filing fee of over $56,000. Although DeRubeis told Newsday and The Smithtown News that he was concerned about the effect Long Island weather would have on an indoor-outdoor mall such as that being proposed, the real leverage the town has over the applicant is with regard to parking.

"Our initial response to the numbers they provided is that they do need a parking variance," DeRubeis said, adding that there were other issues that needed to be addressed before Smithtown approved the application. "There are lots of issues," he said. "There is the impact on the surrounding roads and the configuration of building and the configuration of parking lot."

The town's planning director is wary that the new linear layout will force more traffic out onto public roads. "They are effectively dividing the site in half, which is not a plus," he said

Still DeRubeis agreed with the premise of upgrading the mall. "It is certainly dated," he said. "Malls are in trouble nowadays because of what I call the big box stores Borders, K-Marts, etc. It's a different world. Malls reached their peak in about 1980 and it's been downhill ever since."

He said Smithtown is primarily concerned about traffic circulation and will need to refer the application to other agencies for their comments, including the Village of Lake Grove and the New York State Department of Transportation. He also said a comprehensive traffic study may be in order, but it was too early to tell.

Morris said Simon looks forward to working with Smithtown and that the renovation will be good for the mall and the community. "It's always a process and we look forward to cooperating," he said. "It's a shot in the arm to the mall itself and the property, and it is good for the area."

The Town of Smithtown will have six months from July 27 to approve or deny the application.

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