LAWRENCE: Mall cuts ribbon on renovation project

Surrounded by Lawrence Township and Mercer County officials, Thomas Schneider of the Simon Property Group snipped a red ribbon to officially re-open the renovated Quaker Bridge Mall Wednesday morning.

By Lea Kahn, Staff Writer
   Surrounded by Lawrence Township and Mercer County officials, Thomas Schneider of the Simon Property Group snipped a red ribbon to officially re-open the renovated Quaker Bridge Mall Wednesday morning.
   The ceremony officially marked the end of the first phase of the renovation project, which took nearly two years to complete. The seeds of the renovation were planted in 2005 and 2006, shortly after the Simon Property Group acquired an ownership interest in Kravco. The two companies merged in 2010.
   Of the nearly 100 stores that were in place at the mall when the project got underway two years ago, about half of those tenants remain, said Mr. Schneider, the Simon Property Group’s executive vice president for development.
   The renovation project also introduced new stores into the mix. Among them are Teavana, which focuses on loose-leaf teas; high-end fashion stores Michal Kors and H&M; Sephora, which emphasizes cosmetics; and Sur La Table, whose focal point is on cookware and related items.
   Two new restaurants have opened — The Cheesecake Factory, whose menu includes appetizers, pizza, seafood, steak and chicken, and Brio Tuscany Grille. Inside the mall, there is a new food court that offers a variety of fast-food options.
   In addition to new stores, the interior of the 38-year-old mall has been spiffed up. The mall entrances have been redesigned and seating areas have been added throughout the mall. The escalators have been replaced and new carpet and flooring have been installed throughout the building.
   Wednesday morning, Quaker Bridge Mall General Manager Linda Benedetto welcomed the small group of elected officials and Simon Property Group staff to the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
   It is a “very exciting day” for the mall team, she said, adding that completion of the project is providing an economic boost to Lawrence Township and Mercer County.
   Municipal Manager Richard Krawczun told the audience, which included members of Township Council and the Mercer County Board of Chosen Freeholders, that the project was intriguing because of the many moving parts — four major anchors, multiple tenants and multiple governmental agencies.
   ”To place this in perspective, there was a need for Lawrence Township to issue 250 business occupancy approvals. This represents the number of time stores or kiosks had to be moved to accommodate a new tenant joining the mall,” Mr. Krawczun said.
   The direct financial result to Lawrence Township as of Dec. 3 is $749,000 in permit fees, which are non-real estate taxes to support the municipal budget, he said. Permit fees are based on the value of the work being done — $20.5 million worth of work on landlord improvements and $31.3 million worth of work on tenant improvements.
   Mr. Krawczun agreed with Ms. Benedetto that the project’s economic results are many — increased employment in the stores and in the construction industry, as well as increases in real estate taxes, sales taxes and other tax revenues. A 2011 study conducted by the University of Tennessee revealed that for each $1 million of new retail sales, nearly 4 new jobs are added.
   Another study indicated that one out of every 11 jobs is shopping center-related, and for every 100 persons directly employed at a regional shopping center, an additional 20 to 30 jobs are supported in the community, Mr. Krawczun said. The Cheesecake Factory is projected to result in 250 full-time jobs.
   What’s next for the Quaker Bridge Mall?
Mr. Schneider said there is a general development plan in place for additional phases of the redevelopment project, which was approved by the Planning Board several years ago. The plan is a general outline of what could take place, he said, adding that the two new restaurants were not part of that plan.
   ”That’s what it’s all about — for the tenants to be successful, we have to respond to the market. The architecture can be attractive, but that doesn’t mean much if the people don’t come here to shop or dine,” Mr. Schneider said.