Thursday, May 7, 2009

Atlas Park for the Average Guy

By Steve Tiszenkel

The Shops at Atlas Park, the alternately ballyhooed and troubled “lifestyle center” plunked down in the middle of a former industrial wasteland in Glendale, is in very deep trouble—this nobody disputes, least of all its owners, two French banks who took possession of the property when original owner ATCO Properties & Management defaulted on a massive loan. Certainly a major financial crisis is a bad time to be operating an upscale mall in a proudly blue-collar borough, but that’s beside the point. Successful businesspeople tough out a crisis—they know from experience that all things pass and, as the Great Depression-era saying goes, these are the times that make millionaires.

No, if Paul Millus, the court-appointed attorney who now runs Atlas Park, thought an upscale mall in the middle of Queens had a place in a utopian 2012 world where Barack Obama is coasting to a 30-point re-election on the strength of a Dow Jones average pushing 15,000 and a 3-percent unemployment rate, that upscale mall wouldn’t be going anywhere, tumbleweeds blowing down the aisles of Amish Market be damned. But Millus and the mall’s new management company have other ideas.

The Daily News reported last week that Millus intends to drop any pretenses Atlas Park has of being a tony destination for the upper crust of Elmhurst and Maspeth. No, Value Depot and Twin Donut, embarrassing fixtures on nearby Continental Avenue, aren’t going to be moving in just yet. But “middle-of-the-road” retailers Urban Outfitters and Aeropostale might be, Millus said, presumably pushing out the likes of White House | Black Market and Jos. A. Bank. The fate of Mr. Bemberlinx, the mall’s 20-foot-tall teddy bear, remains unclear. "Upscale is upscale. You have to have a community like Manhasset to keep that mall going,” the News quoted Millus as saying.

Ouch! Before the housing bubble burst, home prices in the neighborhoods surrounding Atlas Park were climbing into the stratosphere, and Forest Hills Gardens, one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in New York City, let alone Queens, is less than a mile and a half away. No, Forest Hills doesn’t have the cachet of Manhasset, much less Manhattan, and Glendale certainly doesn’t, but one would think there are enough locals interested in and able to afford the kind of stores Atlas Park offers to keep it afloat.

What’s more, was Atlas Park really so upscale? It has a Chili’s and a Stein Mart, with its overflowing shelves of sort-of-tasteful, won’t-break-the-bank knickknacks. It has a gleaming multiplex — everybody likes movies, right? — and a Johnny Rockets. It has a New York Sports Club, the other locations of which in the immediate vicinity do well enough to have irritating wait times for elliptical trainers during peak hours. This is how the other half lives? I must have missed the Cartier outpost and the Marc Jacobs boutique. Nothing at Atlas Park is anything to be ashamed of, but I’d hesitate to describe it as anything more than “middle of the road.”

What does this sad state of affairs, in which developers are telling us we can’t keep Coldwater Creek and Florsheim in business, mean for our area? It’s as grim as it is mystifying—if Chico’s is too “upscale” for the neighborhood, no wonder nothing can stay in business on Austin Street.

But despite occasional discouraging developments like this one, I remain an optimist about our area. There are, all stereotypes aside, sophisticated people here with sophisticated tastes, and they deserve better. I certainly won’t complain when an Urban Outfitters opens in Atlas Park — I like flipping through coffee-table books about people’s humiliating, anonymously revealed secrets as much as the next guy. But an upscale mall can exist in Glendale, I just know it can. It just depends on your definition of upscale.

The writer is the host of the Website Log on to read more about Forest Hills and surrounding neighborhoods.

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