Mall manager wants shopping center to be more involved with the community
Joe Castaldo, the new general manager of Crossgates spoke at the Guilderland Chamber of Commerce’s First Friday Breakfast Series on Friday, May 7. Castaldo said he hopes to bring about a more community friendly outlook from the mall.
I don’t know what the past relation was between Crossgates and the community, but I am very community oriented, he said. One of the features he instituted since taking over the operation of the mall in February is a community bulletin board for not-for-profit organizations.
He said going forward he would also like to work with the Red Cross to host blood drives in the mall and will consider allowing not-for-profits to use mall space to benefit their cause.
`The biggest thing we have to promote is our space,` he said. `There’s a big difference between standing on the corner and [standing in] the center of the mall.
He said the 1.6 million-square-foot shopping center attracts 19 million people each year.
A number of local business owners asked Castaldo about the possibility of local businesses using space in the mall.
Castaldo said that he would be open to working with businesses that complement services offered by tenants of the mall.
`I wouldn’t want to bring in a competing use that would take traffic away from tenants. It wouldn’t be fair to our tenants,` he said.
He said that the current makeup of tenants in the mall is about 95 percent national stores and 5 percent locally owned stores, however he said if a local business has a good product, it can survive in the competitive mall environment. He mentioned Hana Japanese Steakhouse as an example. The restaurant will soon open up a take-out location in the food court.
Castaldo said the mall is `really starting to turn the corner` when it comes to dealing with the sluggish economy.
`Right now we are focusing on remixing the center and bringing in new tenants,` he said.
Kathy Burbank, executive director of the Chamber, said that the economic downturn resulted in a number of mall tenants to joining the Chamber in hopes of spurring their businesses.
`We knew the economic downturn had hit Guilderland in November and December when mall stores were coming to us,` she said.
In addition to Hana, Castaldo said the mall will be welcoming a number of new tenants and expansions, including the expansion of Forever 21 and Aeropostale, and the addition of Fresh Wraps, CafE Fresh, Gertrude Hawk and CCS Footwear.
He said the mall is also in negotiations to lease out 10 additional spots, however, he would not comment on the ongoing negotiations.
Castaldo also said he would like to see a day spa, comedy club or `things of that nature that are outside of the box things that keep people there longer.`
Town Board member and small business owner Mark Grimm, who chairs the First Friday Breakfast Series, said that Castaldo represents an opportunity for the town and the mall to have a constructive relationship.
`He has exactly the right attitude. It’s a big opportunity to reach out to the community,` he said. `Outreach is the first step to a constructive relationship.`
Grimm said the mall is a huge asset to Guilderland’s school district.
`They are handing a huge check to the school district and saying, ‘Here take this, and we won’t send one kid to the schools,` he said.
According to Grimm, the mall gives about $5 million each year to the district.
`There is a give and take with regards to town services,` he said, adding that it is important for the town and mall to work together rather than have an unproductive and antagonistic relationship.
Castaldo said that although the mall does consume town services, he does not believe it is a drain on the town.
`We pay for those services. I am a taxpayer like everyone else,` he said. He also said local businesses benefit from the 19 million people that travel to Crossgates each year, and that Crossgates pays for many of the services it consumes.
`Friday and Saturday nights you will see two police officers there. We pay for them,` he said.
Burbank said that communication between the Chamber and Crossgates will continue beyond the First Friday event. She said Castaldo will become a regular at each First Friday, and that Castaldo has invited the Chamber to attend the mall’s monthly merchant meetings.
`Castaldo has a great management style; wanting to stay in touch with the local businesses, meet parents, even go to town board meetings to keep abreast of what is going on in the town,` she said.