STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. - Beyond the construction trucks and local traffic clogging a stretch of Staten Island's St. George neighborhood hang signs touting what long seemed like a mirage: Empire Outlets, the city's first outlet mall.
"It's happening, and Staten Island is officially on the map. There's no turning back at this point," said Joe Tirone, a local realtor.
It took seven years to build the city's first retail outlet center, two more than originally projected.
What has not changed are projections that three and a half million tourists a year will visit Empire Outlets, many of them taking the Staten Island ferry.
"A lot of people come here and they do a lot of shopping, and that's just a fact, right? An outlet center again is a compelling thing. It's good product mix, you're supposed to be getting stuff that normally is fully price you're getting it at a discount. And people want that stuff. They wanna get the bargains," said Daniel Geiger of Crain's New York Business.
Plans for another major project - a gigantic observation wheel next to the outlet center - crumbled last fall because of construction delays and runaway costs.
But local officials and realtors say the outlet center will give another shot to the revitalization of the North Shore which has seen a decade of new residential and retail construction - the opening of new bars and restaurants and rising property values.
"It's going to really change the feel of the whole neighborhood. It really is. Because now you have this incredibly cool place to shop that is going to be a worldwide destination. It's going to create that kind of hip town that we've really all tried to aspire to," Tirone said.
Tenants include Nordstrom Rack, H&M, Nike and the Gap. A 1,300 spot parking garage will also open and plans are in the works for a new ferry service that will connect the site to Midtown and the DUMBO section of Brooklyn.
"If there was to be a concept that would pull people to Staten island to do shopping, this would be it," Geiger said.
Empire Outlets will host an opening night party next Wednesday night for a limited number of guests.
The site will open to the public Thursday morning at 9 a.m.