By Jeff Mays
HARLEM — East River Plaza features both a Target and a Costco, but the developers of the massive mall say they left out one major trait shared by most successful shopping centers: a food court.
Representatives from Forest City Ratner and Blumenfeld Development Group say they plan to remedy the oversight and are currently looking for an operator to oversee the food court they are planning to install.
"That is a comment folks have been making since the day it opened," Raffaela Petrasek of Blumenfeld Development Group said about the need for a food court.
Members of Community Board 11's Land Use Committee were vocal about the need at a meeting Monday night.
"The mall needs not just shopping but food to make it a real venue," said Derrick Taitt, a member of the committee.
Fellow committee member Diane Collier agreed, saying, "Let's make it more of a family-oriented place."
The lack of a food court and the high cost of parking at the recently opened mall are driving away customers — several of them to the Gateway Center at Bronx Terminal Market — said Community Board 11 members. At that shopping center, there is an Applebee's, members of the board noted.
Parking at East River Plaza was $4.70 for two hours when the mall opened.
"Let's be honest. Most of us shop for more than two hours. Why pay that rate when we can go across the river," Collier said.
At the Gateway Center at Bronx Terminal Market, the price for parking was recently changed to $3 for the first three hours, and monthly parking spaces are also available.
"I do prefer to go over the bridge because parking is a massive issue," East Harlem resident Kathy Burton said about her choice to shop at Gateway. "It's sad that I have to go to another borough."
Andrew Miller, a vice president for Forest City Ratner, said the parking space has been leased out to an operator so they have no control over the rates. Some retailers have the option of offering validated parking and have been encouraged to do so but have not, he said.
"Everyone agrees the garage is much, much larger than it needed to be," said Miller.
Petrasek said they are collecting data to apply to use the garage for other things such as monthly parking.
"We actually think you are going to get more people taking public transportation to the mall and that will be more important than parking," she said.