Burlington Twp. mall to get makeover

Posted: March 16, 2014

BURLINGTON TWP. As shopping centers age and competitors apply pressure in luring customers, the former Burlington Center will undergo a $230 million makeover to regain a regional foothold.

The mall's new owner, Moonbeam Capital Investments of Las Vegas - known for revamping underperforming malls - unveiled plans Thursday to transform the mall to include 1.5 million square feet of retail space and expand to adjacent land along I-295 with a residential component.

That land is owned by home builder Peter Hovnanian of Mount Laurel. Hovnanian and Moonbeam have formed a partnership, along with developer Patrick Heller, to transform the mall in Burlington Township.

"We have a chance to really turn this into an upscale establishment," said Steven Maksin, chief executive officer of Moonbeam. He spoke to a large crowd gathered for Thursday night's unveiling in front of the mall's J.C. Penney Co. store, which announced this year that it would soon be closing.

Heller, who owns Diamond Real Estate in Limerick, said his company was in discussions with several national retailers to become tenants, but declined to name any.

Heller and the other partners said they envisioned turning the mall into a "destination" that would include a high-end movie theater, restaurants, and other retailers.

Kristi Howell, president and CEO of the Burlington County Chamber of Commerce, which has more than 400 members with more than 32,000 employees and business people throughout the region, said the project was long overdue.

"It's also the only way to breathe life into that mall," she said Friday. "I have been saying this for years, that as the mall has changed hands over the years, it's gotten such a stigma, and that stigma is really the truth.

"You walk in and two out of every three stores are closed. It has more closed stores than open ones."

Howell said the mall, which last year was renamed the Marketplace at Burlington, lacks foot traffic and a variety of stores to be a draw.

"There's no toy store, no real restaurant, and no hamburger shop," she said. "Everyone is moving out, but no one is moving in. You definitely need to revamp, rebuild, and re-create that mall, and that is what this project will do."

Formerly owned by Jenkintown-based Jager Management, the mall was acquired at auction by Moonbeam in June 2012. In its website, the company is described as one that "specializes in overlooked and underutilized centers. It 're-tenants' properties by finding out what the community wants and working with organizations, such as chambers of commerce."

Moonbeam has a national portfolio of mostly retail, along with hotel, office, and industrial space. It owns four enclosed malls, including Cortana Mall in Baton Rouge, La.; an outlet center; and community strip centers. The 10-year-old company has been aggressively expanding.

Some say the $230 million overhaul of the Marketplace at Burlington was logical after its name changed.

"I got to see firsthand the vision for mixed-use development, with commercial and residential buildings that will come online over the next five years," said Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D., Burlington), who attended Thursday's unveiling. "It's really going to be transformative for the Route 541 corridor and regionally for shopping."

The partners on Thursday offered few details, including when construction would begin.

Howell said the approach of making the mall accessible from I-295 through a new exit would expand its customer base. She said shoppers in nearby Florence now go to Hamilton Township and its shopping centers, while those who live in Moorestown and Mount Laurel have their own centers.

"The income demographic was not really there to sustain the mall," Howell said. "This project will really capture a new audience, since it includes an access point from I-295."

Howell cited the fierce competition nearby. Moorestown Mall has a new movie theater and restaurants that can serve liquor. Celebrity chef José Garces is opening a restaurant there in spring.

"You have to keep up with the times," she said. "These national chains are what people are connected to. Now with J.C. Penney closing, the mall will lose another anchor." Macy's had already closed its store there.

Singleton added that a combination of factors had led to the mall's decline: "We can't shy away from the economic recession and its effect on the area and mall traffic in general. But losing some of the anchor stores kind of heightened the decline."


sparmley@phillynews.com

856-779-3928 @SuzParmley

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