By the time you read this, The Shops at Columbus Circle will be open for business. But in mid- January, workers were scurrying about the four-story atrium, known as the Great Room, to finish in time for the Feb. 5 launch. The center, with an additional three floors of restaurant and jazz entertainment space, is part of the $1.7 billion, 2.8 million-square-foot Time Warner Center across from the southwest corner of New York's Central Park.

The space has been the subject of much controversy: Is there a need for upscale stores at the West Side location? Can a mall work in New York? How much did the delay from a November opening to the February date cost retailers in holiday sales?

But as the opening drew near, developers and retailers were optimistic that the mall's design — with the Jazz at Lincoln Center facilities run by Winton Marsalis, five restaurants and a wrap-around bar with spectacular views by Cindy Crawford's husband Rande Gerber — will bring thousands through the shopping area daily, and encourage circulation inside. Retail space was 95 percent leased, with more than 40 luxury and specialty retailers signed on. Among them: Joseph Abboud, Tourneau, Hugo Boss, Thomas Pink and Bose.

“They have a lot of star power,” says Faith Hope Consolo, vice president of New York-based Garrick-Aug Worldwide, referring to the upscale shops and celebrity chefs. She predicts sales per square foot in the $800 to $1,000 range, equal to that of the designer stores across the park and a little south on Fifth Avenue. “They learned from everyone else's mistakes how to build a vertical mall,” she says of developer Related Urban Development. (Related, by the way, cringes at the term vertical mall.)

Enter the retail arena between the complex's two towers (which house the condo residences — one of which reportedly sold for $45 million — a 251-room Mandarin Hotel and office space) and step into the 150-feet-high Great Room. The entrance, a series of doors that are part of a 70-foot wide and four-story-high glass and stainless steel wall was designed by glass artist Jamie Carpenter. It provides a panoramic view outside to Columbus Circle and Central Park (above). The floors are marble; wooden pillars add warmth to the the steel and glass guts of the center.

Inside, giant plasma screens feature programming ranging from stores' logos or products to perhaps a New York skyline image. Samsung Electronics has run a fiber backbone through the entire development, providing TV in condos and having the ability to program content in store video displays. It's all done from a central control room. Williams-Sonoma, for example, will broadcast cooking demonstrations directly to other stores.

In the basement is a 59,000-square-foot Whole Foods Market, the largest grocery store in Manhattan. “The location is great and there are few opportunities for space this large in Manhattan,” says a Whole Foods spokeswoman. The store features specialty dining food bars and prepared and fresh baked foods in the grand tradition of Harrod's Food Halls in London.

One level down is the Equinox Health Club and Spa, a 40,0000-square-foot club that includes an Olympic-size swimming pool and personal training and spa services.

Vitals

Location: Manhattan's West Side

Developers: The Related Cos., Apollo Real Estate Advisors

Architects: Elkus/Manfredi; Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

Contractor: Bovis Lend Lease

Major tenants: Borders, Whole Foods Market, Tumi, Williams-Sonoma Grande Cuisine

Size: 500,000 square feet