It’s safe to say that Jefferson Valley Mall, the 550,000-square-foot, two-floor shopping center just off of Route 6 in Yorktown Heights, is a mall in transition.
Owned by Columbus, Ohio-based Washington Prime Group, the mall is in the midst of a $40 million redevelopment project, one that began after the real estate investment trust bought the property from Simon Property Group in 2015.
“We’re in the second phase of the redevelopment,” said Dave Napolitan, general manager of the mall at 650 Lee Blvd. “I would say after this phase, the bulk of the investment has been made and the project, while it’s never over, the major expenditure of all the dollars is over.”
The project’s initial phase included a number of exterior upgrades, including new entrances, landscaping improvements and a transformation of the former eight-screen cinema, which closed in 2010, into a Dick’s Sporting Goods store.
Other improvements have included an eye-catching new Bath & Body Works shop on the second floor, an expanded storefront for fast-fashion brand H&M and the addition of ULTA Beauty.
“I think Washington Prime saw the potential that the property had and saw that maybe commitments to reinvest in the property weren’t done for whatever reason by Simon,” Napolitan said.
But the amount of work yet to be done at the 34-year-old shopping center is apparent. The escalator that connects visitors from the first-floor stores to the second-floor dining area is out of service, blocked off with signs promising a “restyled” mall in the near future.
The food court is also undergoing a top-to-bottom transformation, one that includes new ceilings, tile floors and lighting fixtures. Only two existing restaurants, El Jalapeno and Asian Chao, are open for shoppers. Napolitan said negotiations are in the works for two additional quick-serve restaurants to take up spaces within the food court, and renovations are expected to wrap up by September.
“The food court probably in its former days was a little too large,” Napolitan said.
While other malls hope to transform their eating spaces into “dining districts,” Jefferson Valley Mall is taking a different approach. Washington Prime plans to cut the size of its food court in half, choosing instead to open a several standalone eateries.
On the mall’s ground floor, Stone Rose Steakhouse, which will offer a raw bar with indoor and outdoor seating and live music, is continuing its build-out and could open later this year. Fast-casual eatery My Pie Pizza is expected to open its doors soon after.
“I think most mall developers have made that kind of shift to entertainment, dining and just attractions,” Napolitan said. “Those are all things that you can’t get as part of an online experience.”
Other attractions the company hopes will entice people through the mall’s doors include a Mystery Escape Room, which is set to open this fall. A former retail space within the mall has been converted into a showroom for a local car club, 93 Octane Crew, with an assortment of classic and street cars on display.
“It gets a lot of interest, especially from our male customers,” Napolitan said.
The mall’s first floor features a simulation-style game that projects a game board onto the floor below, allowing children to use their bodies to play virtual soccer or other video games.
“Kids and families love that,” said Alexa O’Rourke, marketing director for the mall.
Washington Prime, which owns more than 100 malls nationally, also aims to build a roadway to Jefferson Valley Mall from Route 6. Those plans were discussed at a recent Yorktown board work session and could include the construction of additional retail or restaurant space.
During that same work session, representatives from Seritage Growth Properties, which owns Sears and Sears Auto Center at the south end of the mall, floated the idea of moving the retail store’s operations to the second floor. The first-floor could then be transformed into a 24-hour fitness center, while the auto center might become a restaurant.
Those plans follow the retailer’s dwindling revenues in recent years and the announcement of hundreds of store closings over the past year. Requests for comment from Seritage were unanswered at press time.
Along with the many improvements to the mall, Washington Prime also aims to transform the plaza into a center for community involvement.
“We’ve been a staple in this community for so many years, so they thought it was very important to make sure that that relationship was strong,” O’Rourke said.
The mall hosts a farmers market on Saturdays, a weekly Food And Fuel series that features classic cars and food trucks and recently held a Yorktown Community Day.
“It’s all about finding creative ways to bring people to the property,” Napolitan said.
One of those “creative” attractions has come from an unlikely ally of any brick-and-mortar shopping destination.
“A very unusual relationship we have is actually with Amazon,” Napolitan said.
Last fall, the online giant installed Amazon Lockers inside the mall. These lockers serve as a kiosk for customers to pick up or drop off their Amazon.com packages. The mall also found a way to eke out additional revenue from the Lockers, which are now branded with Coca-Cola Co. logos.
“It’s interesting,” Napolitan said of the installation of the lockers. “If you think about it, people that want a convenient place to get their goods shipped to, what better place than the mall?”