Who likes looking at “that dead old mall?” Or living near it?
The Voorhees Town Center, formally called the Echelon Mall, used to be known as “the place to be” by locals. It housed anchor stores like JCPenney, Sears, and Strawbridge’s, which became Macy’s (which closed in January 2017). It had an expansive food court, including a popular Chick Fil A.
The situation has only gotten worse – with stores like Victoria’s Secret leaving. The mall on a recent Friday night resembled a ghost town, the only places with life were Bath and Body Works and a self-defense class.
Today, Boscov’s remains the only anchor store in the mall.
Then came the Voorhees Town Center, a complete rebranding of the area. Abandoned areas of the mall were torn down to create a new “town center.” Today, the area houses several successful restaurants such as Iron Hill Brewery, Rodizio Grill, and Catelli Duo.
However, the outside remodel didn’t fix the inside issues – a problem plaguing many malls in the nation.
Community members, if you look at the comments on “What’s Up Voorhees” on Facebook, are fed up with the situation at the mall and so are township officials. The township would have had to use eminent domain to seize the property from the owner, but they were able to convince the owner to “deal with good faith” with a new developer.
There has been competition between multiple potential developers as to who will take over the mall and redevelop it. Brandywine Financial Services was chosen for their plan to repurpose the entire area. They do not plan to just demolish the building and build more apartments. According to the township director of economic development, Mario DiNatale, the place will have “a good feel.”
It will have limited housing, consisting of high-end townhouses, active senior apartments, and a small portion of lower income housing. The mall’s structure will remain, but it will consist of much more entertainment; “there will be more of a Dave and Busters and Xfinity Live type atmosphere,” said DiNatale.
Recent reports in the news have included a beer court, laser tag, a drive-in movie theater, and a sports bar.
Some of the new ideas include Tilt, a gaming studio, expanding and bringing more games geared toward older audiences, some of the Macy’s area being transformed to an indoor trampoline park, and even a skydiving type place.
The plan for redevelopment is expected to take 4-5 months to go through planning boards. It should be brought to a vote by the town committee within the next 4-6 months and hopefully approved. Construction would be able to commence as soon as the summer.
“We’re all in agreement the area needs to be redeveloped,” said Committeeman Michael Friedman. The vote all could depend on the details of the final proposal.
He believes something we need in the final development is full scale family entertainment. He would also like to see some kind of a community center component to the plan.
As to housing, he isn’t that enthusiastic about it, but it is necessary. “I personally don’t want to see more housing,” he said, “but the state requires a portion of the development to include affordable housing.”
One thing the committee does not want to see is more retail, said Friedman. Instead, they want to focus more on entertainment and dining options. “We do not want to see more big stores.”