VINELAND — The state on Thursday approved a $13 million development plan that includes construction of what city officials said is a much-desired Olive Garden restaurant.
The restaurant, along with a Raymour & Flanigan furniture store, Gabe’s discount clothing store and other businesses, will occupy the Delsea Drive location of a Kmart that closed in October 2015.
The project is expected to create more than 100 full-time jobs, city officials said.
Helping the project along is a tax-credit plan approved Thursday by the state Economic Development Authority. The tax credits will be for 30 percent of the project’s eligible costs and will not exceed $3,911,700 worth of state taxes. At the meeting, the EDA also approved an estimated annual grant of $108,795 per year for 10 years for DeWalt Brewing Co. to relocate from Pennsylvania to Atlantic City.
In Vineland, city officials have tried to fill the Kmart site, located across from Cumberland Mall, since the store closed.
Olive Garden also expressed interest in the site for years, city Economic Development Director Sandra Forosisky said. The attraction for an Olive Garden was mutual, she said.
“I can’t tell you how many people requested that we get an Olive Garden,” Forosisky said.
The restaurant chain couldn’t work out an acceptable agreement with the site’s previous owners, she said, adding city officials told Raymour & Flanigan of the chain’s interest, prompting representatives from the furniture store to contact Olive Garden.
“They were able to work something out, and it finally came together,” Forosisky said. “I’m excited.”
Raymour & Flanigan, Gabe’s, a West Virginia-based company, and other businesses will occupy the renovated Kmart building, Forosisky said. The Raymour & Flanigan store will cover about 30,000 square feet, while Gabe’s will occupy about 50,000 square feet, according to EDA documents.
Olive Garden will be built on a pad site in the parking lot, she said.
According to EDA documents, the project “may attract new shoppers who can conveniently access the center via Route 55 … and may also keep shoppers in Vineland who have otherwise been forced to expend additional time and cost traveling to other areas for particular goods and services.”
“The result is likely to be additional money spent in Vineland, enhancing economic opportunity for the area,” according to the EDA, which calls the project “economically feasible.”
Mayor Anthony Fanucci called the former Kmart property a prime location along the city’s main business corridor and said officials are excited to see it redeveloped.
“The project is a perfect complement to the stores and eateries located at the adjacent Cumberland Mall,” he said. “Working to bring jobs to Vineland is one of my highest priorities as mayor, and this project will be a significant addition to our local economy. Additionally, Raymour & Flanigan is respected as an excellent corporate neighbor that is fully engaged within the communities they serve. We look forward to working with them and to welcoming them to Vineland.”
The Kmart site is one of several the city is working to fill with new commercial enterprises.
Those other properties include the former Landis MarketPlace, which was considered a centerpiece in the downtown business district’s revival. The facility closed shortly after the operators of its anchor Amish market left in July 2015.
Another site is the former Cosmopolitan restaurant on Delsea Drive. That was supposed to be converted by the local Tower Hospitality Inc. into a Denny’s restaurant. The Denny’s will now fill the site of a former Bob Evans restaurant in Millville, prompting officials in Vineland to forgo closing on a $1 million Urban Enterprise Zone loan that was to help the Cosmopolitan’s conversion.
Yet another major property that will become vacant is the Progresso soup plant, which is scheduled to close this year. The fate of the property rests with its parent company, General Mills.