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Big-box stores and restaurants slated for Burlington Center revitalization

Big-box stores and restaurants slated for Burlington Center revitalization

By: Jeanne O'Sullivan


Philadelphia Business Journal
April 22, 2013

WNSHIP — The Burlington Center’s new owner is planning to turn the ailing shopping mall into a thriving mecca of big-box retailers and restaurants.

Moonbeam Capital Investments, a Las Vegas private equity group that acquired the 41.7-acre site at auction in June, has unveiled a plan to develop the Route 541 locale into a “power strip.”

“We’re trying to maintain the national retailers that are currently there, as well as bringing in a really strong tenant mix and making the Burlington Center Mall a destination,” said Shawl Pryor, senior vice president of Moonbeam, which boasts a 9 million square-foot commercial property portfolio spanning the United States. “I think when you look at the mall, you have to look at the property as a whole, not just a physical building.”

While Pryor would not name specific companies because of ongoing negotiations, he said the plan entails the construction of eight big-box stores, ranging in size from 15,000 to 120,000 square feet, and scaling down the enclosed portion of the shopping center, which is anchored by J.C. Penney and Sears.

The food court will stay, and restaurant chains will join the mix, Pryor said. An informed source said Darden Restaurants, the parent company of Red Lobster, Olive Garden and several other recognizable brands, has shown interest in the property.

A key part of Moonbeam’s vision is transforming the former Macy’s building, which fronts Route 541 and has been a “huge obstacle” to the mall’s redevelopment, Pryor said. Moonbeam has contracted to purchase the two-story building and plans to demolish all or part of it.

“Most retailers today would prefer one level as opposed to two levels,” Pryor said.

No timeline has been set for construction or demolition as negotiations are still pending.

Also in store for the mall is a new building façade and a rebranding strategy that may include a new name. Pryor said the rebranding plan likely would use community input.

Moonbeam’s principals plan to pitch the property during RECon, the International Council of Shopping Center’s annual retail real estate expo. The event takes place May 19-22 at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

The revitalization plans are welcome news to those banking on the Burlington Center to thrive.

When it debuted in August 1982, the 600,000-square-foot mall boasted 125 stores anchored by the now-defunct Philadelphia-based Strawbridge's department store, which later became Macy's, and national retailer Sears. J.C. Penney opened in 1996. Macy’s is gone, and only 64 of the mall’s 100 spaces are filled, said Laurie Ballard, the complex's general manager.

Some of those empty spaces are slated for occupation. Ballard said negotiations are underway with prospective tenants, including a seasonal haunted house, a dance studio, a natural body products retailer, a gift shop and an electronics store.

In her 20-year career at the center, she has witnessed its ups and downs as she progressed from department store retail management positions to the mall's marketing manager to her current role.

“When I (first) came here, it was a booming mall. Everyone shopped here. And then over the years, we saw its decline, I guess as the economy fell apart,” Ballard said.

The shopping center also weathered ownership changes. Before Moonbeam’s acquisition, Jager Management of Jenkintown, Pa., purchased the mall for $10.5 million in November 1999 from the Rouse Co. of Maryland.

Ballard and the tenants watched as foot traffic slowed and many retailers left over the years, leaving a few chains interspersed with an assortment of jewelers, salons, cellphone dealers, independent clothiers, discount shops and miscellaneous boutiques. The mall is also the setting of community events, monthly Pokemon tournaments, weekly kids' activities, and seasonal flu clinics and yard sales.

The few longtime merchants that remain are “glad they hung in there,” Ballard said.

“We’re excited to be part of (Moonbeam’s plans),” she said.

As for small changes, the new owners have instituted plumbing and climate-control upgrades, hired a new cleaning company, and plan to improve energy efficiency, Ballard said. She added that she has a new marketing budget that she’s using to enhance the mall’s events and generate buzz.

Longtime first-floor tenant Sunny Kumar, who operates the Perfume Hut out of a 1,200-square-foot space near the main entrance, said he’s noticed the housekeeping improvements.

“It’s a good plan,” Kumar said of Moonbeam’s vision, but added that he hopes the new owner will focus on wooing indoor tenants.

Jeannie O'Sullivan: 609-871-8068; email: josullivan@phillyBurbs.com; Twitter: @jeannieosulliva

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O'Sullivan, J. (2013, April 22). Big-box stores and restaurants slated for Burlington Center revitalization , Philadelphia Business Journal, April 22, 2013, http://www.phillyburbs.com/my_town/burlington/big-box-stores-and-restaurants-slated-for-burlington-center-revitalization/article_b504a64f-aaad-5690-9b26-36a611d2afca.html