VINELAND – The closing of the Progresso soup plant will leave the city with a major empty building in need of a new tenant.
There are also high-profile commercial properties that are already vacant. And, unlike the Progresso plant’s future, which is in the hands of parent company General Mills, others require some local action to help lure new business ventures.
That includes the former Landis MarketPlace, which was considered a centerpiece of the downtown’s revival but closed shortly after the operators of its Amish market left in July 2015.
The former Cosmopolitan restaurant on Delsea Drive 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 here to forgo closing on a $1 million Urban Enterprise Zone loan that was to help the Cosmopolitan’s conversion.
And then there’s the former Kmart on Delsea Drive near the Cumberland Mall. That building remains empty since its October 2015 closing.
City officials said they’re working to bring those buildings back to life.
For the former Landis MarketPlace in the 600 block of East Landis Avenue, the “challenge is finding the best use to make that property what it needs to be, the anchor of downtown,” said Russell Swanson, executive director of Main Street Vineland.
“There’s a lot of tire kicking,” he said.
There is also a meeting planned for this week involving officials from the city, Cumberland County government, the Cumberland County Improvement Authority and Cumberland County College regarding Landis MarketPlace and other properties, Swanson said.
“We’re looking at the big picture and the small picture,” Swanson said.
Included in these options are second- and third-floor residences above first-floor stores as a way to bring more foot traffic to Landis Avenue, he said.
There is still a good possibility of finding new uses for the Cosmopolitan, and especially the Kmart site, said city Economic Development Director Sandra Forosisky.
Forosisky said Kmart is negotiating with the shopping center’s out-of-state owners to end what she said was Kmart’s “attractive” long-term lease for the site. That will eventually make it easier for the owners to meet their goal of selling the entire shopping center, she said.
As for a new tenant on the site, Forosisky said “there’s definitely interest.”
Forosisky declined to identify the company that she said could mostly fill the building.
As for the Cosmopolitan, Forosisky said Tower Hospitality officials are “still looking at their options.”
Meanwhile, other formerly unused buildings serving as functioning businesses.
The former Mori’s Restaurant at East and Landis avenues is the site of an eatery, Mauro’s on the Ave, which opened in the fall.
Mauro’s is connected to the Landis Theater. Both businesses underwent significant renovations recently as part of the so-called Four Corners project at East and Landis avenues. Mauro’s, along with rejuvenated leadership at the Landis Theater, is once again making that corner a viable commercial site.
Steve Wozniak is converting the former Martini’s shoe store in the 600 block of East Landis Avenue into the Brinx Jones Brewing Co.
“I like downtown places,” said Wozniak, 39, a former Las Vegas musician and media designer for historical museums. “And I wanted a storefront brewery. This street is amazing.”
Wozniak’s microbrewery will seat about 80 people. He’ll brew enough English, Irish, German and American types of beer for consumption at the microbrewery.
There’s still work to do inside the property, and Wozniak said he’s still waiting for the necessary final permits for his business.
But Wozniak said city officials, Main Street Vineland and the Vineland Downtown Improvement District are more than helpful in getting his dream business operational. He’s said he’s fast making friends with supportive merchants.
Wozniak’s microbrewery is also just a few stores away from the former Landis MarketPlace, and he said it would be a boost to his and other businesses if that facility could again be operational.
That’s something Swanson said he understands.
“We’re trying to find the best use that will bring people downtown,” he said.