MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — The former site of Kmart in Rio Grande is one step closer to becoming county offices and a veterans clinic this month after county officials hired an architectural firm to complete the $6 million to $7 million renovation.
The Cape May County Board of Chosen Freeholders approved the hiring of Philadelphia-based architectural firm Buell Kratzer Powell at a meeting this month.
Architects at the firm did not respond to a request for comment.
The sale of the building was finalized in January, Freeholder Director Gerald Thornton said Thursday, after the county’s $5.75 million offer was accepted.
The county had appropriated $7 million for the purchase.
Plans call for the building to be turned into offices for the county and some state social services, as well as a veterans clinic.
Nothing is going to change for the current leaseholders in the plaza, officials said. Businesses at the site include a gaming store, Save-a-Lot food store, a rental business and a Frank Theatres location.
“The leases, in about 10 or 11 years, will just about pay off the entire county investment there,” Thornton said.
Thornton has sought to have a veterans clinic for the more than 8,000 veterans and their families in the county for 20 or more years, he said, adding the county has “outgrown” the Department of Veterans Affairs clinic at the Coast Guard base in Cape May.
“That will provide the services our veterans need,” he said, including large meeting rooms, as well as hearing and eye tests. “We’ll be giving our veterans much easier access and much more services.”
The VA will pay $1.3 million toward renovations, then pay rent to the county for use of the space, according to county officials. The VA announced the deal in December.
At one time, the Rio Grande Kmart was the largest chain retail store in the area.
Later, commercial development brought new options, including a Walmart SuperCenter a short distance away.
In January 2017, Sears Holdings included the Rio Grande Kmart, as well as one in Pleasantville, in a list of 78 Sears and Kmart locations to close across the country. Sears’ financial slide continued late last year, resulting in the closing of its anchor store at the Hamilton Mall in Mays Landing.
The Cumberland County Improvement Authority is the coordinator for the Cape May County project, Thornton said.
Gerard Velazquez III, president of the authority, said the organization will provide construction management services to make sure the project is designed and built to the county’s specifications.
“The CCIA will oversee and manage the development and construction process but will not own the facility,” he said. “The county will own the building and provide property management after construction is completed.”
Thornton said he hopes the clinic will open by the summer of 2020, with the county operations moving there a year later.
This is “one of the best projects that I’ve ever worked on,” Thornton said. “We really lucked out because of the aggressive way the county has taken and the Board of Freeholders has taken.”