Wednesday, June 4, 2014

$85M could breathe new life into Chesterbrook shopping center

by Natalie Kostelni, Staff writer for the Philadelphia Business Journal

A partnership that owns the forlorn Chesterbrook Shopping Center has an $85 million plan to breathe new life into the property.
That work calls for razing a large portion of the existing center and constructing a mixed-use development with a community of townhouses with just a small retail strip. It’s what the partnership believes the site can sustain and, after struggling for so many years, also make it thrive.
“When we bought the property, we wanted to figure out why it was broken and how we could fix it,” said Robert F.Whalen Jr. of RW Capital Partners Inc., a Plymouth Meeting, Pa., real estate investment company.
The conclusion was that it no longer worked as a pure retail outlet.
When the 122,216-square-foot center was constructed in 1981, Genuardi’s was its anchor and the grocer had a devoted following throughout the region. For a time, the center held its own in spite of just 9,600 vehicles passing along Chesterbrook Boulevard on a daily basis. The grocer’s sales were just about $200,000 a week.
As time went on, competition ate into those meager sales. Trader Joe’s moved into the Gateway Shopping Center, which isn’t too far away. Wegman’s, Whole Foods, and even other retailers that incorporated groceries into their stores (such as Wal-Mart and Target) took business away. Then, Safeway bought Genuardi’s and the once-family-owned chain of grocers lost much of its luster.
The lack of pedestrian and vehicular traffic combined with poor visibility also hurt the center. Its design didn’t help either, Whalen said. It was no secret that a courtyard that was incorporated into the center’s original design hid stores and deterred shoppers from milling around.
The economic downturn was the final nail. The recession wore on and Genuardi’s vacated in 2010 its 38,502-square-foot store. Some of the other retailers closed up and many of its vacancies were never re-leased. A total of 78,960 square feet was empty and 21 of its 41 store fronts were vacant at the time Whalen’s partnership bought the property last fall.

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