Route 30 — commonly known as the White Horse Pike — between western Galloway Township and Hammonton sees 10,000 to 20,000 cars go by each day. Yet large buildings on the stretch have remained vacant, some for decades.
Low population in the surrounding area, combined with the economic recession and Pinelands restrictions that make development more difficult, have kept these eyesores around for years.
That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been interest in those properties, said Margaret “Meg” Worthington, a broker with Stephen N. Frankel Real Estate in Ventnor, which represents the 4-acre former Acme Supermarket property in Egg Harbor City near the border with Mullica Township. The Acme building has been vacant since the store closed in February 2002, after serving the city for 50 years. The negotiable asking price is $650,000, Worthington said.
“The property has been under contract four different times,” she said of the site and an additional 7 acres of vacant land across the pike. “The city has been really open for any kind of development there.”
So what’s the problem?
Worthington thinks the main thing holding the Acme property back is the rural nature of the surroundings, kept that way by Pinelands development rules and a lack of water and sewer service in neighboring Mullica.
“It’s the lack of rooftops in the area,” Worthington said. Commerical developers count on people who live in the area, “not necessarily just people driving by.”
Tiffany Cuviello, the planner for Galloway Township, agrees that traffic volume isn’t enough on its own.
Despite lines of cars moving through on the way to Richard Stockton College on one end and the Hamilton Mall on the other, the commercial properties on the four corners of Pomona Road and the White Horse Pike remain underutilized, she said. The township has declared it a redevelopment zone, in need of special treatment to get businesses functioning there again.
Assumption Church moved from the corner in 2008, and Kennedy’s Bar had a fire in 2011. It never reopened and was demolished last year, she said.
About a half-mile west, a CVS opened in 2012 at Jimmie Leeds Road and the White Horse Pike, but the builder has so far not constructed the proposed Nantucket Shopping Center around it, in spite of having all approvals since 2007, Cuviello said.
The eyesores are many.
In Mullica, the partially built Devonshire Motor Lodge has puzzled passers-by for decades, said Hammonton resident and Egg Harbor City attorney Jim Schroeder. The outer shell of the building went up about 30 years ago and was never finished, he said.
Broker-owner Charles Maimone, of Century 21 Reilly Realtors in Berlin, Camden County, said he is in negotiations for a sale of the 20,000-square-foot building shell, on 12.9 acres. It is listed for $395,000.
The building was meant to provide overnight accommodation, Maimone said, but the owner stopped building it when his pre-cast construction company got too busy. “So it sat,” Maimone said.
Then the township rezoned the property from commercial to forest, he said, taking away any potential for development for years. About two years ago, new officials zoned it back to commercial.
Mullica Mayor Jim Brown said it’s one of the properties he would most like to see put to good use.
“It’s an ideal site in a wide-open area,” he said. “There’s no congestion. Entrances and exits already exist. It’s the kind of location I think would be a good site for some kind of warehousing or light industrial, or any kind of office building.”
He said the township’s economic advisory committee is working hard to bring businesses to the pike in Mullica, and revenue into the township’s coffers.
“We have got a lot of irons in the fire,” Brown said, “from meetings with realtors, banks and private individuals. I can’t talk about them yet.”
Hammonton, located on the eastern border of heavily developed Camden County, has had better luck with its larger vacant properties.
The 94,000-square-foot former Kessler Memorial Hospital sold in 2011 after bankruptcy proceedings to Community Healthcare Associates LLC of Bloomfield, Essex County, which specializes in rehabilitating old hospitals into medical arts centers.
Such centers bring together a wide variety of medical services under one roof. A surgery center, physical therapy office, independent doctor’s offices and more are planned for Kessler, managing partner Steve Kirby said.
The company is in the midst of renovations and has conceptual drawings or signed leases for about 25 percent of the interior, Kirby said. He said new windows have been installed, but much of the interior work must wait until all tenants have approvals from the state Department of Health. He expects to open for business next January.
Meanwhile, town officials and business owners are focused on finding a new tenant or tenants for the vacant Superfresh supermarket in the Hammonton Square Shopping Center, which closed in 2011 when parent company A&P filed for bankruptcy protection, said Councilman Tom Gribbin. He works with the Chamber of Commerce’s Uptown Committee on improving the Route 30 corridor for business.
There has been good news in the corridor, Gribbin said. Walmart, located near the Superfresh, has applied to the Pinelands Commission to add 55,000 square feet and become a Walmart Supercenter. The AtlantiCare Health Park, a little farther west on the pike, is also looking to expand.
Hammonton's population is up more than 17 percent from 2000's count of 12,600, to 14,791 in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Atlantic County's population increased by just 8.7 percent during the same period. Egg Harbor City, on the other hand, lost about 300 residents in that same time period, and its 2010 population was 4,243.
As Worthington said, deals aren’t deals until the final paperwork is signed.
She has seen two housing developers and two commercial developers sign contracts, then run into problems with market forces, financing or other issues that derailed their plans for the Acme site and the vacant acreage across the pike, she said.
In 2005, Beazer Homes USA had envisioned becoming part of a public/private partnership to redevelop the blighted area and build a residential neighborhood of townhouses and single-family homes, but couldn’t make it happen, she said.
But Worthington said Egg Harbor City has made significant strides in the nine years since Beazer was in town, and the population should start increasing again.
The city now has a full interchange on the Atlantic City Expressway nearby, a new Community School for grades 5 through 8, the new Cedar Creek High School serving the city and surrounding towns, and a new water treatment plant.
In addition, a 100-unit affordable housing complex for seniors is being built on the former site of the Fanny D. Rittenberg Middle School on Philadelphia Avenue; and the Neighborhoods of Cedar Creek development, helped by five-year tax breaks for new owners, has sold 27 homes in the past 15 months, developer Brad Haber said.
“The government has done its job; now it’s time for the private sector to come in and swoop up the opportunities,” Worthington said.
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