Friday, March 13, 2009

High-scale shops soon to open near county

By Jessica Beym

Even in a sluggish economy, a high-end retail and restaurant center in Gloucester Township just a stone's throw from the border with Gloucester County is still on track to open this spring with high hopes of being a destination for all of South Jersey.

Gloucester Township officials and principals from Ohio-based Stanberry Development gave a guided hardhat tour Thursday of The Shoppes at Cross Keys a 121,000-square-foot "lifestyle center" nearing completion on Berlin-Cross Keys Road.

When it opens in May it will feature well-known national apparel stores and retailers such as Banana Republic, Lane Bryant, New York & Company and Yankee Candle, as well as Bensi, an Italian restaurant found in many locations in North Jersey.

"It offers something for everybody," said Gloucester Township Mayor Cindy Rau-Hatton. "People are talking about it in other towns not just in our town."

Rau-Hatton said the shopping center has been about three years in the making. Stanberry Development first approached the township about their concept for the site just a few days into Rau-Hatton's term, she said.

She said the location was prime real estate because of its access to the Atlantic City Expressway and its proximity to some of the region's most populated communities, including neighboring Monroe and Washington Townships in Gloucester County.

"This is just so exciting for Gloucester Township to have this lifestyle center," Rau-Hatton said. "It's a destination spot for South Jersey."

What may make it a successful destination spot is its convenient location to the expressway. Those traveling south on the expressway only need to make a quick left off the exit and they're right there. The property is adjacent to the highway itself.

But to handle the influx of traffic, which is already a problem for residents in the immediate area who take the expressway to Berlin-Cross Keys Road, Gloucester Township is working in conjunction with the South Jersey Transportation Authority on a project to widen the overpass.

The project, estimated to cost about $5 million, is scheduled to start in April and be complete in nine months. The bridge itself will be lifted and widened to six lanes instead of four, to include two dedicated turning lanes. During that time, the bridge will be closed to traffic for one week, according to South Jersey Transportation Authority officials.

Both Gloucester Township and Winslow Township have an agreement to have the adjacent developers help pay for the roadwork, but the majority of the project is being funded by the state.

"It will really make a difference," Rau-Hatton said of the road expansion. "We don't want people to pass through here."

The Ohio-based company is also in the process of opening a similar retail center in Hamilton Township, Mercer County, which will add to its list of shops in northern and central New Jersey towns such as Denville, Flemington, Old Bridge and North Brunswick.

Mark Pottschmidt, a partner with Stanberry Development, said they've pushed back their opening at The Shoppes at Cross Keys so it won't interfere with the road closure.

"Obviously there will be some short-term headaches, but some long-term benefits," said Pottschmidt said.

The high-end retail shops mixed with restaurants is similar to what Washington Township officials have envisioned for their planned town center just about three miles away.

At the proposed town center on Fries Mill and Hurffville-Cross Keys roads, plans call for a mix of commercial, retail and residential, with shops, cafes, business offices and luxury townhomes. However, the developers for the 37-acre parcel that's being planned haven't yet approached the township planning board with official applications. The project could be as far as 10 years out, according to the redeveloper's agreement.

Washington Township Mayor Matthew Lyons said he doesn't foresee any conflict with the two retail centers being so close to each other.

"There's always the argument that a rising tide lifts all boats," Lyons said. "As far as retail goes, you reach a saturation point with drug stores and big-box outlets. We're targeting more professional uses at this time that provide less traffic, more service and better jobs."

He said the improvements to the Berlin-Cross Keys Road overpass are needed greatly.

"Where it crosses over to the Expressway is a choking point," he said. "It's already bad and its just going to get worse until that bridge is widened. We've made that case clear and we're going to have that widened. It's just going to be a time-consuming project."

Link to original article.