The troubled Foxmoor Shopping Center in Robbinsville has a new owner, and in a hopeful turn of events, it’s a developer with a history of revitalizing shopping malls.
In an August 1 online auction, Penmark Management Company Inc. of Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania, purchased the center for $7.5 million from the U.S. Bank National Association, which had bought it (and its $13.1 million in debt) at a sheriff’s sale in February for $100.
Robbinsville officials hope, through this change in leadership, Foxmoor will once again become the small business hub of Robbinsville. The town’s director of community development, Hal English, emphasized the importance of opening a food store, especially since so many Robbinsville residents now have to go out of town for grocery shopping after Thriftway closed in 2011.
“Penmark owns many malls and shopping centers, and they have connections and contracts with many kinds of retail and food establishments, so they seem quite confident they can bring a food store to Foxmoor,” he said.
Penmark, the owners of Suburban Square Shopping Center on Scotch Road in Ewing, purchased the Coventry Mall in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, in 2016 and increased the occupancy rate from 65 percent to 89 percent in two years. A Robbinsville Township release noted that foot traffic at Coventry Mall increased with more food vendors and following much-needed repairs to the complex.
Penmark has already begun to hold meetings and work closely with the township to create plans to redevelop the plaza. Because Foxmoor is a designated area in need of redevelopment, this allows Penmark and the township to engage in creative zoning and bring in tenants that are generally not allowed, such as a microbrewery.
Further, along with renovating the facade and landscaping of the shopping center, the township will work with Penmark to request the state Department of Transportation for a right-in right-out lane from the shopping center to Route 33, which would provide easier access to the mall.
Foxmoor Shopping Center, built in 1986, has faced tough times in the past decade, leading to a 41 percent vacancy rate and declining sales for the businesses that chose to stay. Before 2015 the center was owned by Pettinaro Management LLC from Delaware, whom English described as “absent.”
Once the land went into bankruptcy, Pettinaro sold the property to the U.S. Bank National Association for $100, with the bank assuming the $13.1 million in debt. Since then, U.S. Bank hired property manager Colliers International for minimal maintenance.
Colliers was tasked with “simple maintenance,” English said. “If there was a leak in the roof, (Colliers) would plug the leak, not get a new roof.”
Colliers was also responsible for leasing, but faced difficulty because every lease and line-item had to be approved by the bankruptcy court, further complicating the process of negotiating a lease.
Combining the difficulty of negotiating leases with the declining appeal of the center, many tenants began to leave the complex, including Thriftway, Rite-Aid, Everson’s Karate, and several restaurants. And while there was tenant interest, the lease process made it difficult to replace departing businesses.
“We have actually had interest in the shopping center, but several tenants have wanted to come in and couldn’t,” English said. “They couldn’t get a lease negotiated because it was between the bank, the leasing company, and the bankruptcy court.”
Since English entered his current role a year and a half ago, he learned quickly that revitalizing Foxmoor has been a top concern for township officials.
“When I came on board, the mayor and council told me that [Foxmoor Shopping Center] was their No. 1 concern,” English said. “So I went to work on it and got the bank to meet with us. At the meeting, the mayor and council were not shy in telling the bank how upset we were about the shopping center.”
The mayor and council expressed their frustrations by threatening condemnation.
“They basically told the bank that either they sell it, fix it up, and lease it, or we will condemn it and then take it,” English said. “That’s when the bank decided to cut their losses and put it out to auction.”