Egg Harbor Township officials will consider a plan to demolish a third of Shore Mall next week, but the future of the commercial site and more than a dozen merchants remains uncertain.
The plan calls for demolition of the mall’s central shopping area, reducing its footprint by 247,000 square feet. Boscov’s, Burlington Coat Factory and several detached restaurants would remain at the mall, which has operated off the Black Horse Pike since 1968.
Site maps filed by Port Washington, N.Y.-based Cedar Realty Trust, which purchased the mall in 2006 for $36.5 million, show a new south entrance would be built with space for a mall office and the Motor Vehicle Commission.
The $1.8 million project also would include new landscaping throughout the property, improved traffic flow and the abandonment of a large swath of the parking lot pending future development.
Tenants and township officials say the owners plan to begin demolition early next year, with the goal of marketing the empty lot to developers as commercial land. But Cedar Realty Trust has remained silent about its plans.
Chief Operating Officer Brenda Walker declined to comment Tuesday. Several others affiliated with the company did not respond to requests for comment.
Doug Keefe, whose Beachcomber Collectibles has been a mall tenant for 38 years, said the owners also have kept merchants in the dark since the project’s July announcement.
“Their communication skills are sorely lacking,” said Keefe, 67, of Brigantine. “When they laid out their plans, there was a lot of denial among the merchants, but it’s their building. They can do what they want with it.”
While some merchants’ leases include a clause obligating the mall to help with relocation, most store owners don’t have that benefit, he said.
Keefe said he has purchased part of the old Wawa property at the Cardiff Circle in anticipation of the demolition and his eventual displacement.
“We intend to stay in the mall as long as there’s a place for us to stay,” he added. “The earliest we’ll get out is the end of the year, but hopefully there’s some extension to make it an orderly transition.”
Shore Mall’s downsizing was long expected, he said, given its gradual decline, particularly since the opening of the Hamilton Mall in 1987. Many storefronts are vacant; others are occupied by thrift stores, a police substation and the MVC.
The closing comes at an already difficult time for the region and the township. Earlier this year, Pathmark closed its grocery store across the Black Horse Pike and a nearby Genuardi’s is also slated to close in December. Hamilton Mall, meanwhile, is also embarking on a renovation project.
“It’s unfortunate this is happening at a time like this,” Keefe said. “A certain amount of people, including mall employees, will be unemployed after Christmas; and then the impact of the hurricane — it’s going to be pretty bad for a lot of people.”
Cedar Realty Trust has requested several variances and design waivers, including exemptions from frontage requirements due to existing nonconforming uses and a requirement for an environmental impact report. The company also requested a waiver from providing irrigation for proposed landscaping beds “due to financial considerations.”
The township’s Planning Board is scheduled to consider the application Monday.
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