Cherry Hill eyes 2 sites in bid to keep Subaru HQ

Posted: June 13, 2013

In a pitch to persuade Subaru to keep its national headquarters in Cherry Hill, township officials are looking to use redevelopment powers to transform two properties into corporate campuses.

The move would give the growing company - which is seeking to expand its headquarters and weighing sites that include the Philadelphia Navy Yard - an attractive option to stay in the township, potentially with tax incentives, officials said.

On Tuesday night, the township council directed the planning board to study whether a 34-acre industrial site on Woodcrest Road and a vacant 10-acre plot on Route 70 slated for an offtrack betting facility could be designated in need of redevelopment.

Township officials say both sites are stagnant: The Route 70 site, at the location of the former Garden State Park racetrack, has remained vacant since its owner gained approval for an offtrack betting facility in 2007.

'The catalyst'

While the Woodcrest Road site near I-295 is occupied by Victory Refrigeration, the commercial refrigeration company isn't using much of it, according to township officials. A message left with Victory went unreturned Tuesday.

If the board decides the sites meet the criteria, plans for the properties will be prepared, either by the board or the township. The township would then select a redeveloper to carry out the plans.

While township officials say they aren't aiming the efforts only at Subaru, the company's search for a new headquarters "was the catalyst for us looking at potential sites," said Cherry Hill spokeswoman Bridget Palmer.

"They've made no commitment," Palmer said. "Our hope is that this will convince them to stay."

Headquartered in a seven-story, 115,000-square-foot building on Route 70, Subaru has 500 employees between the Cherry Hill site and its nearby Pennsauken operations center. With plans for growth - sales have doubled in the last five years - the company has been looking to consolidate operations in larger quarters.

'Still looking'

The company is considering a number of sites, including the Navy Yard, said Michael McHale, director of corporate communications.

"We're still looking," he said Tuesday. He said Subaru is "in regular discussion" with the township and hopes to reach a decision by the end of the year.

If the Cherry Hill sites are designated redevelopment areas, the township could change the zoning and grant tax incentives, Palmer said.

It would also gain authority to acquire the properties through eminent domain. Palmer said the township wouldn't expect to exercise that power.

An attorney representing GS Park Racing, owner of the offtrack betting site, said the group - a partnership that operates the Freehold Raceway - still has plans for the site.

"We will be taking every action that is necessary to challenge any attempt to move this redevelopment designation forward," Barbara Casey told the council Tuesday.

The 34-acre Victory Refrigeration site is owned by Vineland Construction, run by the family of Bernard Brown.

The Browns — who also own the transportation company NFI, next to Victory on Burnt Mill and Woodcrest roads — gave thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to Cherry Hill Mayor Chuck Cahn, elected in 2011.

Republican opponents pointed to those donations recently while challenging Cahn’s support for a public bid on the bankrupt Woodcrest Country Club. The club’s main creditor was Sun Bank, also owned by the Browns.

Cahn said he was acting in the best interests of residents and would have advocated for a zoning change of the country club had he been trying to benefit the Browns.

Vineland could still own the Victory site if it were designated a redevelopment area. But the township would structure incentives to benefit Subaru or a company moving to the site, not the property owner, Palmer said.

“Our intention is to ensure the benefit goes to the corporation,” Palmer said.

The township has one redevelopment-related payment of lieu in taxes agreement in place for the Langston Steel site. Across from Victory on Woodcrest Road, the site was designated a redevelopment area in 2003 and is home to Xerox and other corporate offices.

A similar agreement with Subaru would be “by no means definite,” but “we’re fully aware there has to be some incentives,” Palmer said, noting that Pennsylvania is “aggressive in their incentives.” The Navy Yard advertises tax abatements.

Camden County is also intent on keeping Subaru and could offer the company infrastructure improvements, said Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr.


Contact Maddie Hanna

at 856-779-3232 or mhanna@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @maddiehanna.

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