Long Island Retail Enters New Era With Pending Closure of Sunrise Mall

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The owners of Sunrise Mall have not been renewing leases.

Sunrise Mall has been a fixture in Massapequa since opening some 50 years ago, but it looks like the sun is finally setting on this shopping center that has served generations. Urban Edge Properties and its partners acquired the 1.2 million-square-foot, two-story mall on 77 acres on Jan 4, 2021. It says leases are not being renewed.

The company is talking about a new chapter, yet to be written, and even looking for homes for the 50 koi swimming inside the mall, a signature feature of the property. What happens to the fish may have inspired some interest, but what happens to Sunrise and other malls is a huge question as Long Island enters a new era.

The next chapter for Sunrise and many other malls — rebranding, renovating, attracting new retailers, and resetting — may be part of a second chapter being written for Long Island as the region reinvents retail itself and uses for real estate.

In Holbrook, the Blumenfeld Development Group has signed a 99-year lease for 270,000-square-foot Sun Vet Mall, which lost anchors such as Pathmark and Toys-R-Us. Long Island Business News reported that BDG plans to develop the property, at 10% occupancy, so it “can be de-malled.”

Meanwhile, the Mall at the Source in Westbury is being redeveloped as Samanea, as Long Island gets new looks and uses in the age of Amazon, which itself is opening warehouses and in mid-July, opened an Amazon Fresh supermarket in Oceanside. What happens next with Sunrise and the region’s other malls may be one of the defining stories of life on Long Island, although for now it’s a huge question mark.

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Samanea New York underwent a $30 million revamp.Courtesy Samanea New York Mall

Urban Edge Properties Senior Vice President of Development at John Villapiano said his company is “poised to evaluate options for the redevelopment of Sunrise Mall” with a “thoughtful and comprehensive approach.”

He said Urban Edge is seeking to “add depth to the town’s economy, be consistent with acceptable land use, and generate meaningful jobs.” While he said residential is not planned, that still leaves various choices as many malls face challenges.

“Like many malls, Sunrise Mall has been buffeted by the changing marketplace, consumer trends, and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic,” Urban Edge Properties’ Vice President of Marketing Coleen R. Conklin said.

She added that Urban Edge will seek “to ensure that the property continues to be a significant and positive asset to the surrounding communities.”

“It’s an opportunity for Long Island to design a great space for multiuse purposes,” Patrick Boyle, executive director of Hauppauge-based IgniteLI, a consortium of manufacturers, said of Sunrise. “The mall has access to sewers and high-capacity water and electricity that could make that place a phenomenal industry park or research center.”

Boyle believes retail should remain, if not as a mall, along with other options. “That allows for lots of uses,” he said of existing zoning. “A lot of clean manufacturing or research and development would be considered light industrial, like aerospace and biotech as well.”

Malls, once the undisputed main ring of retail, are a very mixed bag these days, as some big-box retailers go bankrupt or close stores and movie theaters face pressure. Coresight Research estimates that 25% of the nation’s 1,000 malls will close over the next three to five years. That could reduce competition for those that remain, potentially giving some a new lease on life.

Any rumors of the death of brick-and-mortar retail, however, are belied by some revenues. The Simon Property Group, which owns nearly 100 malls worldwide including Roosevelt Field and 69 premium outlets, has been growing amid consolidation. It owns an 80% noncontrolling interest in the Taubman Realty Group and has reported strong occupancy in the age of e-commerce.

Simon reported 93.3% occupancy as of March 31, up from 90.8% a year ago, although average base rent slipped slightly to $52.82 from $ 54.25. The average minimum rent for new leases was $57.67 per square foot, down from $67.66 in 2021.

Meanwhile, Samanea New York underwent a $30 million revamp. The mall, which spans over 750,000 square feet and 38 acres, recently welcomed 99 Ranch Market, the largest Asian supermarket chain in the nation, as its second anchor following Bloomingdale’s Furniture outlet that opened in September 2020.

“Our momentum continues as we work with our new and existing tenants and local officials to reposition this iconic site,” said Samanea New York Chief Leasing and Development Officer Dominic Coluccio, noting that the mall is at 71% occupancy with more tenant openings scheduled this fall.

Located at 1500 Old Country Rd. in Westbury, Samanea, owned by Lesso Mall Development (Long Island), is also home to Dave & Buster’s, The Cheesecake Factory, Fortunoff Backyard Store, Leonardo Furniture, Empire Adventure Park, The Gravity Vault, X-Golf, MyPlanet Living Center, Arteco Cabinetry, Let’s Craft, K-Pot Korean BBQ, Szechuan Restaurant, MoCA Asian Bistro, Frank & Camille’s West Pianos, and Leon Banilivi Rugs.

What will retail look like in five or ten years? What will Long Island look like? What will malls look like — a renaissance, a re-imagining, an end of the road, or all of the above?

“It’s a great opportunity for us as a region to get together and talk about what the next 10, 30, 50 years will look like on Long Island, what our needs will be,” Boyle said.