PARAMUS, NJ – On Wednesday, Westfield Garden State Plaza, the largest mall in New Jersey, announced plans to transform several acres of its parking lots into a mixed-use town center.

Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield unveiled its big news on the anniversary of the mall’s grand opening more than six decades ago, saying it’s “a bold vision that will enhance Garden State Plaza’s role as a focal point in Bergen County.”

Stephen Fluhr, vice president for Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, said, “Since the mall’s opening 62 years ago, our shopping, dining and special events have drawn generations of area residents. Now, we’re poised for the next step in creating a true ‘town square’ destination in northern New Jersey.”

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By 2022, one of Unibail-Rodamo-Westfield’s flagship properties will become a place to live, work, shop and play, mall owners say. 

Under the plan announced Wednesday, the west parking lot adjacent to the mall will house residential development, commercial offices and public parks. It will also include an upscale hotel and apartments, office space, grocery store and fitness amenities. 

An estimated three acres of open space will be reclaimed and include a restored Sprout Brook, seasonal hockey rink and community gardens.

Fluhr added: “We are part of the community and we want to be good neighbors and enhance the quality of life for all residents. There will be something for everyone to enjoy here, from farmers markets, concerts and festivals to ice skating.”

Based on sales, Garden State Plaza is considered to be the most lucrative mall in northern New Jersey and one of the most valuable in America. Each year, more than 20 million people visit Garden State Plaza, spending more than $1 billion at the 300+ stores.

According to Unibail-Rodamo-Westfield, detailed plans for construction will be unveiled in early 2020 and public input will be sought. The company aims to submit its site plan application for planning board review within the next year. 

Fluhr said, “We want to take the time to listen and address our neighbors’ point of view. This is about community building. We’re at the very start of this project, but we’re incredibly excited to build something based on community feedback that can become the commercial and cultural heart of Bergen County.”

According to Fluhr, the transformation will be mindful of traffic and parking issues and calls for the construction of a new parking deck, as well as a new public transportation hub to better connect the mall with surrounding areas. Situated at the intersection of Routes 4 and 17, Garden State Plaza overlooks one of the busiest and most traveled corridors in New Jersey. 

“We understand and appreciate that residents of Paramus and neighboring towns are concerned about congestion, so traffic and accessibility are key in planning as is the inclusion of public open space,” he said.

Wednesday’s announcement comes on the heels of a nearly two-year project to upgrade the 2.1 million-square-foot mall to include new shops and dining options, improved Wi-Fi and lighting and a permanent contemporary art collection. 

The last stage of the redevelopment will feature the conversion of a former 177,000-square-foot JC Penney space into new retail by the holiday shopping season in late 2020.

Paramus Mayor Richard LaBarbiera cheered the plan, writing on social media: "Either you are growing or dying...Moving Paramus forward."

In 2016, the borough's master plan update included rezoning Routes 4 and 17 to allow for mixed use along the busy highway corridors. According to borough officials, the zoning change would help fulfill its affordable housing obligations, while bringing in a different type of housing the borough hasn't had before.

Following the mall's announcement Wednesday, LaBarbiera elaborated on his stance in a Facebook post, saying, "This is what the market commands and the foresight of the Master Plan insures that our most important retail thrives in a changing and most competitive market, to include the soon-to-be-open American Dream."

According to the mayor, half of the borough's tax base is made up of commercial ratables and "if it were to sneeze" Paramus' tax base "would catch a miserable cold."

"What options do the critics of progress and modernizing prefer?" he wrote. "Join with other communities faced with closings, vacant spaces, businesses moving out, escalating taxes, decreasing property values, residents leaving, etc? Aren't these the same problems these same critics are complaining about at the State level?"