A new face for Moorestown? A task force will examine ways to make the west part of town more vital.

Posted: May 06, 2003

Main Street, the heart of Moorestown, is all shade and Starbucks and historic facades.

Camden Avenue, about two miles down the road, is all sun glare and Wing King takeout and squat storefronts.

Township officials have noticed the difference. Hence, the West Moorestown Task Force.

At a Township Council meeting late last month, they voted to create a seven-member advisory panel of residents that will eventually make recommendations on improvements for the western part of Moorestown, which includes the Lenola section and Camden Avenue.

The task force, to be named at Monday's council meeting, will be expected to make "kind of an A-to-Z assessment of businesses, housing, streets, lights, sewers - all of the things that can improve west Moorestown," Mayor Michael L. Sanyour said.

The roots of the task force are in a nearly vacant shopping center on Camden Avenue that has been recently renovated after years of deterioration.

It was built in the early 1960s, and its 38,000 square feet housed a Grant's variety store and later an A&P food market. Now it is called the Shop 'N Bag Shopping Center, after an anchor tenant that left several years ago.

It has room for nine tenants but is home to just three: a dry cleaner that has been there 20 years, a coin-operated laundry that has been there eight, and a Family Dollar variety store that has been there less than a month.

Township officials say the Lenola landmark was allowed to deteriorate into what Township Manager John T. Terry called "an eyesore."

Peter Clifford, Moorestown's zoning officer, said the problem with the shopping center goes back "some time before the west-end initiative. Whether it's west Moorestown, east, north or south, it needed attention."

In the last several months, the center's owner, ILM Associates of Wallington, Bergen County, has given it a makeover and is seeking new tenants. All involved are hoping that the old shopping center undergoes a rebirth.

The owner would like nothing more than to have it leased out, said Jennifer Sofia, assistant property manager of VAP International, ILM's management arm.

The merchants in the shopping center would like nothing more than a full house, which would translate into more customers. "It's going to be really good for business," said Marge Griffin, the manager of Family Dollar.

Township officials would like nothing more than to have curb appeal rather than an eyesore at one of the entrances to their town.

"The goal is to have every entrance into Moorestown look distinctive and - I don't want to say upscale - but, yes, upscale," Councilman Howard A. Miller Jr. said.

Within the last few months, ILM Associates has repaved the parking lot, which was once a field of potholes, and given the old building a new facade and fresh coat of paint.

"We're really putting a lot of effort into leasing it out," Sofia said. "We've put a lot into it aesthetically."

Moorestown officials would like to see landscaping added - "and in short order," Sanyour said - but they are otherwise satisfied with the improvements.

"It looks clean and neat," said Robert G. Hall, Moorestown's director of community development. "There were problems in the past, but they have been addressed."

The owner's leasing agent said the problems were created by the facility itself - too old and too small to be attractive to an anchor tenant, and too close to the Pennsauken Creek, which borders the rear of the property, to allow for expansion. The Pennsauken Creek is protected under federal and state wetlands laws.

"We'd be 95 percent leased if we could tear [the shopping center] down," said Ted Kraus of TKO Real Estate Advisory Group in Mercerville, Mercer County, the leasing broker.

"We allowed it to be vacant for a while, thinking we would bring in a supermarket and we'd all live happily ever after," he said. But no deal could be made, and the shopping center "got a bad reputation."

Several months ago, though, "we decided to bite the bullet, keep the current configuration, and start doing some deals," he said.

Kraus said that he was negotiating with a produce market, which wants 15,000 square feet of space, and a fitness club, which is seeking 10,000 square feet.

Which is fine with the folks at Family Dollar. Said cashier Corey Gowdy: "We can't wait for some company."

Contact staff writer Rusty Pray at 856-779-3894 or rpray@phillynews.com.

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