EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Township residents and officials said they hope the new owners of the Harbor Square shopping center revitalize the diminished property.
“There’s not much left,” Jose Munoz, 36, said Thursday afternoon at the mall.
The Galloway Township resident recalled when the plaza had more stores and attractions, including an arcade, before the previous owners knocked down a third of the building last year. People, he said, now have to travel farther to shop.
“There are only two stores here now,” Munoz said. “They need to add more.”
It is unclear what the corporate plans for the property are, days after the Harbor Square mall exchanged hands for an undisclosed price. Township planning staff said none of the new owners have discussed any future plans with them.
Township Mayor James “Sonny” McCullough said he hoped to talk with the new owners. He hoped they would revisit a plan for a full Garden State Parkway interchange, since that would make the property more accessible.
Public filings shed little light on the new owners, or what their plans for the property are.
A notice of settlement filed with the Atlantic County Clerk on Monday listed four purchasers: Manchester TIC LLC, Trenton TIC LLC, 5301 PH TIC LLC and U.S. Realty Financial TIC LLC.
The TIC may refer to the real estate concept of “tenants-in-common,” where several entities may jointly own a portion of a larger property.
All four corporations were established on Feb. 14 in Delaware, records show, via a third-party registration service. That service registered them in New Jersey on Feb. 24, the day of settlement. Neither the Delaware nor New Jersey records list any corporate officers or principals.
All four New Jersey records listed a main business address in midtown Manhattan, on the floor of a building shared with U.S. Realty Management Co. and its management firm, Aetna Realty.
Calls and emails to Gerald J. Valerius, a director at U.S. Realty and a person identified by township officials as a principal in the sale, were not returned.
Records and the company’s website show they have extensive local holdings.
U.S. Realty and Aetna Realty on their website say they own more than 10 million square feet across 10 states. Some of the local properties listed include Egg Harbor Township’s English Creek Shopping Center, for which records show U.S. Realty and Aetna paid $9.2 million in 1997, and the Shoppes at English Creek, for which it paid $1.07 million in 2000.
Tax records show over the past 10 years the English Creek Shopping Center’s corporate owner, English Creek Partners LLC, have also bought up nearby 32 acres of vacant land in a business zone on English Creek Avenue near the township high school. The Shoppes of English Creek’s owners, Heather Croft LLC, own the rights to an unbuilt portion of the township’s Heathercroft Condominium complex.
U.S. Realty and Aetna also list Pleasantville Shopping Center, for which they paid $6 million in 2002. It was in the news recently about plans to locate a drug rehabilitation clinic there in a portion that formerly held a charter school.
Privately held U.S. Realty also owns several large office buildings, either directly or through affiliates, including Egg Harbor Township’s Bayport One. In Atlantic City, it owns the Guarantee Trust Building and the Midtown Building on opposite sides of the courthouse park on Atlantic Avenue. It also has long planned to build Centurion Plaza behind the park on a North South Carolina Avenue surface parking lot currently used by Superior Court staff.
The Harbor Square sale comes as the previous owner, Cedar Realty Trust, has focused its investments on grocery-store-anchored shopping centers over the past several years while shedding mall properties in its portfolio.
The firm bought what was then the Shore Mall in 2006 for $36.5 million. The assessment climbed 79 percent from $28.6 million in 2012 to $51.6 million in 2013, following a township-wide reassessment. Its property taxes similarly climbed to $1.2 million.
New Jersey Tax Court records show that the company has appealed both its 2012 and 2013 taxes. Both cases are pending.
The owners also partially demolished the structure last year, in response to what it saw as changing consumer tastes. County tax records show the demolition cut its current assessment by almost a third, to $35.3 million.
In 2013, Cedar Realty discontinued operations at seven properties based on its approach to focus on grocery-anchored centers that straddle the corridor from Boston to Washington, D.C.
“The company believes that, because of the need of consumers to purchase food and other staple goods and services generally available at such centers, its type of ‘necessities-based’ properties should provide relatively stable revenue flows even during difficult economic times,” it reported February in an annual report to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
As of Dec. 31, Cedar Realty owned and managed 65 operating properties totaling nearly 9.4 million square feet of leasable land, about 93 percent of which was occupied.
Cedar Realty Trust President and CEO Bruce Schanzer said in an earnings call this week that selling the Shore Mall “will really represent truly the final step in concluding the near-term strategic plan that we talked about two years ago.”
Cedar Realty now owns three New Jersey properties, including Carll’s Corner in Bridgeton. Carll’s Corner was about 85 percent occupied by the end of 2013, among the lowest rates of the company’s portfolio, which includes properties in Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and New Jersey.
Cedar’s Vice President of Acquisitions Michael Winters said in an email the company had no further comment on the sale.
Monday’s purchase apparently included just the 73.3-acre mall property. Tax records indicate that the property owner, Shore Mall Associates, also owned three small wooded lots in the forest south of the mall that totaled about 0.6 acres. Those were not listed on the sales record.
For now, residents said, they hope the new owners expand the mall’s options. Since the demolition, much of the rear of the property has been cordoned off with a temporary chain-link fence that runs across the parking lot.
Like the others, Pleasantville resident James Zeigler, suggested rebuilding the rear of the mall. After doing that, he said, the owners should get Costco or Ikea to open up.
However, Doni Bettis, 65, was skeptical about the mall’s prospects. Like others, she wanted more shopping options. The Pleasantville resident conceded that “the only viable mall is the Hamilton Mall. There’s nothing down here.”
Contact Derek Harper:
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Staff writer Brian Ianieri contributed to this report.