Toni Worthington paused on her way into Evesham Township’s Produce Junction to reminisce about the heydays of the adjacent Tri-Towne Plaza shopping center, located off Route 70.
On a recent weekday afternoon, Tri-Towne Plaza was looking pretty desolate. The Burger King and TD Bank in the pothole-strewn parking lot were drawing customers. So was the H&R Block, the only remaining business in the main complex, which consists of a series of smaller shopfronts bookended by two anchor stores that once contained a Kmart and a Superfresh. Kobe Grill Sushi & Seafood Buffet left earlier this year, amid reported disputes with landlord RD Management, LLC, of New York City.
In October, Evesham officials and the shopping center’s owner, RD Management, announced plans to redevelop the site.
Worthington said she was pleased to hear of plans to redevelop Tri-Towne Plaza into a mixed-use retail and residential development.
“I would love a convenient little grocery store where if I needed something, I could just jump in the car and go,” she said.
A bitter past
Evesham Township’s relationship with RD Management was acrimonious in recent years, with the township pursuing legal action toward getting the long-vacant property declared blighted, and taking it over by eminent domain. But both sides have apparently called a truce in light of the planned redevelopment, which Evesham Mayor Randy Brown said may begin as early as spring. RD Management did not respond to numerous requests for comment on this story.
Though Brown’s relationship with RD Management was less than amicable before the Renaissance Square announcement, he says he’s optimistic that the project will happen.
The Mayor says the project schedule calls for buildings to be “active and open” within a year from now, and for the entire project to be nearing completion within two years.
RD Management says the redeveloped site will be called “The Shoppes and Residences at Renaissance Square,” and include about 100 luxury apartments and “an open space park complete with new jogging paths, walkways and a beautiful fountain.”
Brown said that the plan for the site is “kind of a town center theme,” where the retail outlets will serve the apartments. Brown said that he can’t yet provide any details on what specific retailers may eventually occupy the center.
Regardless of what tenants eventually end up there, Brown says an occupied, tax-paying plaza is eminently preferable to a drawn-out legal battle over ownership. Currently, the plaza is worth $4 million, he said. Once the center is complete, Evesham officials estimate that the value will be closer to $30 million. “We’d love to get activity in there,” he said.
John Volpa, an Evesham resident who serves as vice-chair of the township’s Environmental Commission, says he took a “wait and see” attitude toward the project at first. He was wary of RD Management’s track record and the bad blood between the company and Evesham Twp. Mayor Brown.
“”I was like, OK, one part sounded plausible,” Volpa said. “That they had both tormented each other enough with the legal stuff that they called a truce and started communicating.”
But Volpa said he’s encouraged that Township Manager Tom Czerniecki sees the plan as viable, and also that it fits in with Evesham’s overall approach toward the balancing of commercial development and preserved open space. “I’m confident this is moving forward,” Volpa said.
Location, location, location
Burlington County Regional Chamber of Commerce President Kristi Howell says she’s also optimistic about the new development’s prospects. She believes it will bring in business from neighboring Medford.
“I think it’s a great location,” Howell said. “Medford doesn’t have a lot of storefront.”She attributes Evesham’s trending toward upscale, specialty retail outlets to the same factor that spurred the municipality’s transformation from a sleepy bedroom community to a suburban boom town over the last few decades. Namely, its location.
Major regional thoroughfares Route 73 and Route 70 run through Evesham, and Route 295 and the New Jersey Turnpike are close by. That’s crucial for high-end retail stores, which must serve as destinations for people from outside the immediate area if they’re going to survive. Even a high-income household isn’t likely to buy a pricey electronic gadget or designer jacket every week.
“Just like the Cherry Hill Mall doesn’t survive just off Cherry Hill residents,” Howell said. “It’s really all about the traffic.”
Fond memories of Tri-Towne
Worthington, who was recently shopping at Tri-Towne Plaza, says she still misses the Kmart that used to be there. It was handy when she needed something, and she’s not a fan of Wal-Mart. And while she can do her grocery shopping at the ShopRite further west on Route 70, she misses the Superfresh from Tri-Towne Plaza because it was closer to her home and the parking was less of a hassle.
Still, she figures just about anything is preferable to the Tri-Towne Plaza as it is today.
“I was just telling a friend the other day,” she said. “It’s an eyesore.”