Portions of Voorhees Town Center could undergo eminent domain from township

On Wednesday night, the planning board passed a resolution that could eventually lead to the township’s acquiring of the property.

Photo of Town Center from March 21 snowstorm.

At its latest meeting, the Voorhees Township Planning Board approved a report encouraging the township to designate certain areas of the Voorhees Town Center mall complex as areas in need of redevelopment.

If the plan is approved by township committee at its April 9 meeting, Voorhees will have the authority to acquire parts of the property, including an empty Macy’s store. The township is still waiting on potential costs, as the property would be commissioned on appraisal.

After potentially acquiring the property, the township would eventually sell it to a developer. Township officials say they are unsure of the timeline of this process.

“(The owners) didn’t look at this as a long-term project,” township administrator Larry Spellman said, “leaving us no choice but to let it fail or use this aggressive approach, but we can’t ignore it either.”

The official report investigation, conducted by CME Associates, says the complex is a Condemnation Redevelopment Area, which, under state law, grants the township eminent domain.

A New York firm, Mason Asset Management and Namdar Realty Group, purchased the mall in October 2015 for $13.4 million.

The owners could not be reached for comment.

Since then, tenants have been gradually leaving, including the closing of Macy’s in early 2017.

“Owners have been neglecting maintaining this property,” Spellman said.

Certain lots met the condemnation criteria under the Local Redevelopment and Housing Law, according to the report.

The Condemnation Area in need of redevelopment, as determined by the report, includes four acres of two unused parking lots located along the north and northwest corner of the Town Center, as well as the circular grassy knoll outside of the former Macy’s.

The plan would not include the Boscov’s, 400-plus apartment complex or the section of shops and restaurants near Laurel Oak Road.

Spellman says the township plans to meet with a potential developer next week.

This investigation specifically addresses “phase two” of a redevelopment process that started in 2007 when the Echelon Mall was officially renamed the Voorhees Town Center after the mall radpidly declined in 2000. Its vacancy rate eventually hit 75 percent in 2005, according to the report.

This was attributed to anchor stores leaving the mall, as well as competition from neighboring shopping complexes such as the Cherry Hill Mall and Moorestown Mall.

“Phase one” featured 235,000 square feet of small specialty shops, residential apartments and condos that included several affordable housing units and office complexes near the mall.

When Voorhees Township municipal offices relocated to the center in 2011, vacancy rates reduced to less than 50 percent, according to the report.

“When we moved into the mall in ’11, since then, phase one has worked great,” Spellman said.

But, as noted in the reports, “the redevelopment effort from 2007 was never fully implemented in that some of the initial redevelopment area is still vacant and unused today.”

With a series of closed stores and Boscov’s serving as the only anchor store, the mall is now facing the same vacancy problem it had in 2000.

The township strives to repurpose the complex.

“Hopefully now, we can get a developer who will finish what we started and keep this as a thriving part of town,” Spellman said.