EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — The owner of the Shore Mall has changes planned for the 44-year-old shopping center, but merchants will have to wait until July to hear them.
Port Washington, N.Y.-based, Cedar Realty Trust sent letters this week to tenants inviting them to a July 18 meeting to hear “the owner’s plans for the repositioning of Shore Mall.”
The current strategy has yet to be publicly disclosed to shop owners or the township.
Cedar Realty Trust Vice President Brenda Walker declined comment until after the meeting, which is open only to merchants and their representatives.
After buying the 75-acre property in 2006 for $36.5 million, the company, which then was known as Cedar Shopping Centers, announced its intention to redevelop the aging mall. A previous proposal had called for “de-malling” the center to convert it to an open-air plaza.
Meanwhile, the mall had also been listed for sale recently through CBRE Group Inc., a major real estate firm.
Cedar Trust has been selling some of its properties recently to pay down debt, while focusing on a business plan of supermarket-anchored centers and disposing of mall properties, the company said in documents filed with federal Securities and Exchange Commission.
Mall merchants do not know quite what to expect but are hopeful for improvements to the circa 1968 shopping center along the Black Horse Pike, which for years has been struggling to stay relevant among changing shopping habits and competition from other retailers, including the larger Hamilton Mall, which was built in 1987.
“I’d like to see someone buy the mall, bring shops in, fix it up, bring some stores in. This mall has potential,” said Rocco Giugliano, owner of Capri Family Pizzeria, located in the mall for most of its existence. “In the ’80s, this mall was very hot. I had a booming business. But we’ve been struggling the last 15 years due to a lack of stores, the property getting old, and you’re dealing with a lot of competition.”
Doug Keefe, whose 12,000-square-foot Beachcomber Collectibles has been at the Shore Mall since 1974, said the traffic configuration around the mall makes it tricky to navigate, particularly for traffic from the Garden State Parkway.
“I’ve seen it go from its heyday to its not-so-heyday,” he said.
“We used to be the prime destination. Now we’re just the hanger-on,” he said.
Meanwhile, Keefe said, the mall declined his request to renew his one-year lease next year, which has him looking for a new location for the sports collectible and memorabilia business.
“It’s with regret we’re looking. We would prefer to stay, but if we’re not part of the plan, we have to move on,” he said.
Egg Harbor Township Administrator Peter Miller said the township has not received official notice of what the mall operators are planning. Previous discussions involved proposed changes to traffic patterns around the mall, as well as changes to the shopping center itself.
“One of the concepts they discussed with us, but they haven’t submitted anything, was to remove part of the existing mall and replace it with some type of big box (stores),” Miller said.
Cedar Realty Trust, when it was still Cedar Shopping Centers, was tentatively approved Dec. 14, 2010, for an Economic Redevelopment and Growth Grant through the New Jersey Economic Development Authority.
That application estimated the project to cost more than $100 million and using a “big box” retail center” to include discount stores, junior department stores, home improvement stores and others.
In its application, the company anticipated retaining Boscov’s, Burlington Coat Factory and TGI Friday’s.
The state authority recommended the project could receive a grant up to $20 million, or about 20 percent of the project’s cost.
The grant — based on tax revenues — would not get dispersed unless the center opens and generates tax revenues.
Since no money was dispersed, the company would face no penalty if it should withdraw from its plans, said EDA spokeswoman Erin Gold.
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