Gloucester Township Mayor David Mayer said he fully expects Gloucester Premium Outlets, the largest economic development project in the history of his community, to alter the town for good. “We’re poised to have tremendous economic growth now,” Mayer said.
The outlet mall scheduled to open in Aug 13, 2015 is being built on a 65-acre stretch of former farmland off the Black Horse Pike and Route 42 in Camden County. Mayer says the project will likely spark more nearby commercial development that could include Burlington-Cross Keys Road and Blackwood-Clementon Road.
While some residents have expressed concern about potential overdevelopment, Mayer said the vast majority are excited about the project. “Wherever I go, people are talking to me about this,” he said. “When are the outlets opening?”
Mayer agreed with the suggestion that Gloucester Township’s near future might mirror the recent past of nearby neighbor Evesham Township in Burlington County. Like Evesham, Gloucester Township started off as a sleepy, rural community made up largely of farmlands. As with Evesham, a number of housing developments moved in. Now Gloucester Township appears on the brink of the next phase — a spurt of commercial development similar to the one that transformed Evesham into a suburban boomtown.
As far as Mayer is concerned, the change is worth it. Developers Simon Property Group are projecting 300 construction jobs and 500 retail jobs connected with Gloucester Premium Outlets. What’s more, Mayer said, the ripple effect is already happening. The adjoining Shoppes at Gloucester Township, formerly known as Blackwood Plaza, is also in the process of redevelopment, which includes the installation of pad sites. And Gloucester Township has picked up $40 million in ratables since 2014.
Mayer attributes it all largely to the same factor that spurred Evesham’s growth, which is the township’s proximity to major transportation corridors close to Philadelphia. That came later in Gloucester Township’s history than Evesham’s, spurred by the construction of the interchange off Route 42, which was completed in 2011. “That gives us tremendous potential,” Mayer said. “The infrastructure makes us very accessible.”
Since then, Mayer said, township officials have been doing their part to pave the way for business development. They worked hard to keep the tax rate stable, with the understanding that a tax spike can be disastrous for businesses.
They also eliminated a requirement that developers put up performance bonds, or money reserved up-front to finish a project in case the developer is unable to do so. Mayer said that makes sense for residential developments, because it wouldn’t be fair for new homeowners to live surrounded by unfinished roads and houses. But the bonds only proved to be a burden when it came to commercial development.
While he foresees a good deal of commercial development, Mayer doesn’t anticipate it choking off the town.
He said the access to the commercial areas will come mainly via exits off major highways, so mall traffic won’t be clogging local roads.
Short-term development plans for the township also include an arts district with the Mainstage Center for the Arts off the Black Horse Pike as its center. The idea, Mayer said, is to make sure the existing businesses and existing character of the town don’t get lost among all the development.
“You try to create something for everyone so it’s a destination place,” Mayer said.
This post is part of our South Jersey Politics Blog