The banking company, Caylon Societe Generale, which is headquartered in France, announced last week that ATCO Properties & Management - the management and leasing company that runs the day-to-day operations of The Shops at Atlas Park - would be replaced next month. ATCO's contract will end on February 19, and will not be renewed.
A replacement management company has not been announced yet. A spokesperson for Caylon Societe Generale did not answer repeated phone calls seeking comment.
In a statement, the senior vice president of ATCO, Damon Hemmerdinger, said he was proud of the work his company did to promote the mall, which opened in 2006, and expressed regret at losing the contract to manage the facility.
"I am passionate about the development of The Shops at Atlas Park," Hemmerdinger said in a statement. "Our company and I will remain active members of the national retail real estate industry and of the Queens community."
It is unclear whether the French company's decision was a reaction to the slumping U.S. economy, or if the move is any indication that the mall is losing money.
Hemmerdinger insisted the mall is doing fine. In 2008, Hemmerdinger said 12 stores opened and traffic at the mall increased by 30 percent.
"I believe in Atlas Park," said Hemmerdinger, "and I believe that the residents of Queens want, deserve, and can support high-quality retail, restaurants, and entertainment - even in the midst of the worst recession in memory."
Owners of stores at the mall welcomed the management change, which many said was necessary if the young mall hopes to establish itself as a leading commercial center in Queens.
"On the surface the change doesn't seem like a good thing, but the positive is that Damon Hemmerdinger left the mall in a pretty good position for us to continue building what he started," said Shermon Peters, owner of Rosetta Wines. "He put down a great foundation in terms of his vision for what he wanted the mall to be. The infrastructure is there."
What was lacking, said Peters, was a comprehensive marketing strategy to attract attention to the mall. Peters said by now the mall has outgrown ATCO's initial marketing campaign and needs a more focused advertising drive targeting residents in surrounding communities like Glendale and Ridgewood.
Peters added the new management company would have to brand the mall as an integral part of the surrounding community.
“With all do respect to Mr. Peters,” countered Walter Sanchez, publisher of the Glendale Register/Queens Ledger weekly newspapers, “do we see any comprehensive marketing strategies from the Queens Center Mall or the Bay Terrace Mall? We see none. Atlas came up with the ‘I Support the Economy’ campaign giving out thousands of dollars to people all throughout Queens to promote the Mall. Not only did they buy signage space on billboards throughout Queens, they hired bands, ran all sorts of innovative newspaper and radio ad campaigns, had special concerts to get people in, gave out space for community meetings and got involved with running special events for every holiday.
“They were more innovative than any other mall management company from Queens to Tanger Mall in Riverhead,” added Sanchez. “They did everything short of banging people over the head and dragging them there. Come on – the location is not as conducive for a mall as it could be, so they worked extra hard to attract customers. Customers are hard to come by in this economy and the supermarket is supposed to be a draw – but it is not. The Amish Market hurts the draw. It doesn’t attract enough customers needed to help the rest of the Mall. It’s overpriced – and the Shop AND Stop which is ten blocks away is very busy. The movie theater does a great job, but it’s not enough just yet. It takes time to make things work and they were well on their way. The shopping center will do just fine in the future, and ATCO will probably not get the credit they deserve for getting the ball rolling.”
Vincent Arcuri, chairman of Community Board 5 thought a new look at marketing might help.
"People have to know and be told what's there and I don't think that message has been getting out there," said Arcuri. The shop owners at Atlas Park who were interviewed for this article saw the management shakeup as a positive change.
"It will probably help in the long run," said a manager of Johnny Rockets, who asked to remain anonymous, "because they will bring in a company that has experience running malls, and spend more money on advertising to bring people to the shops."
Erick Budiman, manager of the restaurant Shiro of Japan, said he hopes the new management company attracts large, nationally known stores to Atlas Park.
"We're expecting they can bring in some better stores like maybe a Macy's that people already know," said Budiman, a move that could bring more shoppers to the mall.
In the meantime it's business as usual at the mall, as storeowners adjust to the upcoming change and wonder who their new mall manager might be. Arcuri said he believed the French holding company would look to replace ATCO with a major management company like Vornado that has experience managing large developments.
Still, not everyone is pleased with the change.
“The recent events of Atlas Park are very concerning to the community. I hate to be cliché but better the devil you know,” said Kathy Masi, the president of the Glendale Civic Association. “I don’t believe that a French Bank ownership understands the community or is even interested in owning property. Whether we liked the former owners or not, the Hemmerdinger family was four generations in Glendale.”