Don’t call it a food court. Call it a “dining district.”

This story first appeared in the December 8, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

That’s how executives at the Simon Property Group describe the 30,000 square feet of restaurants and eateries coming to the Roosevelt Field mall in Garden City, Long Island, next month.

The dining district reflects the overall vision for elevating the 2.3 million-square-foot shopping center and is a major component of an ongoing $100 million overhaul that began early this year. It’s more about modernizing the setting and upgrading the offering and less about expanding a property that already qualifies as a megamall, though retail space for high-end brands is in the pipeline.

“It’s not about bulk. We’re not adding much GLA [gross leasable area]. It’s about quality,” said Thomas J. Schneider, executive vice president of Simon Property Group, on a tour of the mall last month, when he pointed to where new energy-efficient LED lighting; huge video walls, located on the bridges that connect the two sides of the mall; and backlit wall units for advertising are getting installed. “We’re touching every surface — the skylighting, the ceilings, the floors, the handrails and the columns.”

A new two-level, 100,000-square-foot Neiman Marcus store will be built, marking the luxury retailer’s first Long Island store. It’s expected to open in February 2016. Adjoining Neiman will be a 30,000-square-foot wing for 18 to 20 designer, contemporary and aspirational shops yet to be named.

With the dining pavilion, “the main purpose is to improve the customer experience, to create a sense of place,” said Francis X. Scire Jr., vice president of leasing for Simon. It will comprise a total of 17 Manhattan eateries and traditional food-court tenants — The Little Beet, Melt Shop and Tres Carnes, among them — in a casual indoor or al fresco dining setting. The existing food court will be replaced by 17,000 square feet of new retail.

The renovation project also includes a two-level parking structure with access to Macy’s and Neiman’s mall entrances, which opened in October; 200 additional parking spaces in the northwest deck; porcelain and stone floors for a contemporary look, replacing outdated tan tiling; new restrooms; landscaping and charging stations. The frameless glass handrail walls and slimmed-down columns will provide improved visibility and sight lines. The new skylighting lets more natural light in and provides better climate control. “Before, the skylights were covered with dots to keep the mall cooler, but the new skylights are tinted for energy efficiency,” Schneider observed.

A good portion of the upgrades are completed, with interior and exterior renovations expected to be completed by holiday 2015. The mall’s last renovation was in 1996.

Roosevelt Field is considered among the 10 largest malls in the country by size and volume. It attracts an estimated 22 million visitors annually from all income groups and is anchored by Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, J.C. Penney, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Nordstrom. Roosevelt Field generates more than $1 billion in annual sales. The specialty stores track at more than $1,000 in sales per square foot; five years ago, productivity was $800 a foot. Macy’s is said to do between $150 million and $180 million in annual volume in its 425,000-square-foot space.

After opening in 1956, the mall became a symbol of suburban sprawl, but it is still remembered as the site of the airfield where Charles Lindbergh began his historic trans-Atlantic flight in 1927. It’s among the few malls where retail companies put up prototypes — Bose, Aéropostale and Palladium Boots, among others — because the center is close enough for Wall Street retail analysts to visit easily. Simon, which acquired the mall through its purchase of Corporate Property Investors in 1998, is reinvesting in its best properties to the tune of $1 billion a year to cover 10 to 15 projects, including an overhaul of California’s Del Amo Fashion Center, which is bringing in Nordstrom.

Though Neiman often situates its stores in posh areas, such as Beverly Hills and Bal Harbour, Fla., Simon officials believe Neiman won’t have a hard time fitting into the demographically democratic Roosevelt Field and its spectrum of price points. They also believe Long Island is underserved at the high end.

“Neiman’s has been looking in the market for the past 15 years,” Schneider said. “They don’t have a presence in New York, other than Bergdorf Goodman, but it’s already a good market for them,” based upon online sales.

“The demand for Neiman Marcus has always been here,” added Scire. “The way we present the shopping experience is absolutely how people shop. The same people shopping luxury want to also shop Uniqlo.”

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