HAMILTON TOWNSHIP - When trendy clothing retailer Forever 21 opens at the Hamilton Mall on Wednesday, it will officially finish the first half of ambitious expansion plans at the 26-year-old mall.

The Mays Landing mall saw two new detached restaurants - Buffalo Wild Wings and Longhorn Steakhouse - open in March and April.

And an expansion of the mall itself built two "junior anchors," including a 19,000-square foot H&M clothing retailer that opened in June and the 35,000-square-foot Forever 21.

The Hamilton Mall has been working to secure tenants for its next expansion plans, which would build an outdoor streetscape of 12 to 15 stores on the outside of the mall, General Manager William Schu said.

Construction could begin next year, he said.

"We're in active negotiations with a number of tenants," Schu said. "We can't name names until we have a signed lease. We're hoping - assuming we get enough leases in hand - to start construction the first of next year and then open in the fall of next year. That would be ideal."

Schu did not disclose the costs of the expansion. The Hamilton Mall is owned by Kravco Co. LLC, a property management and development firm based in King of Prussia, Pa.

Schu said the conclusion of the first half of the expansion represents a major milestone for the company, whose vision for the mall was delayed by the economic downturn.

"We had to fight through the challenges the recession brought us, we had to sign up the tenants and all that came to pass," he said. "Once we got rolling, within a year everything came to fruition."

"Plus the economy's starting to turn around," Schu said. "Even though South Jersey's still struggling, the national economy's turning around. What Gov. Christie did with the tourism district is helping in Atlantic City, and our ownership is committed to the area. It looks like it's all coming together at the right time."

Workers have been preparing Forever 21 for its opening on Wednesday, painting the space and bringing in merchandise for the two-story store. Both Forever 21 and H&M also have locations at Tanger Outlets The Walk in Atlantic City.

Meanwhile, the Hamilton Mall has been staging special events recently to draw attention to the mall, said Greg Benedetti, the mall's marketing manager.

On Aug. 15, the mall will host "Battle of the Runways," bringing four fashion runways to the mall. The event will be hosted by Jay McCarroll, a fashion designer who won the first season of television reality series "Project Runway."

Contact Brian Ianieri:

609-272-7253