New Hersey State of Muncicipalities FacebookTwitter Linkedin with NJSLOM       





   

Voorhees Town Hall
Moves to the Mall

 Larry Spellman  Judy Trias
By Larry Spellman
Administrator, Voorhees Township
& Judy Trias, PREIT Vice President
of Retail Marketing

When people outside the township first learn that Voorhees Town Hall moved to a mall, there is still the occasional chuckle. However, once they see the design and the obvious benefits of being able to conduct township and personal business all in one trip, the snickers change to the comments of “This is brilliant. How come more towns don’t do this?”

Residents can now get a marriage license and walk across the mall to Macy’s to sign up for their wedding registry. They can pick up a copy of their child’s birth certificate and then enjoy the Kids’ Klub activities, shop at the mall’s children’s stores, or grab a bite to eat. Residents have come in to pay their third quarter taxes and then headed into the mall for their back-to-school shopping. Fourth quarter tax payers can pay their taxes and stay in the mall to begin their holiday shopping. Also, parking is now plentiful on Municipal Court mornings, as Court begins at 8:30 a.m. and the mall opens at 10:00 a.m.

Our move to the mall also made financial sense. Let’s take a look at how the move came about. Built in 1973 Voorhees Township’s original Town Hall was too small to meet the needs of our growing population after only ten years of use. In 1985, the township added a double-wide trailer to the municipal complex as a temporary measure. Five years later, plans were drawn up for a new municipal building, which unexpectedly became a contentious issue in the 1990 local election. The new building was dubbed “the Taj Mahal” and the slogan “Same building, new Committee” was circulated among voters.

LumberYard Mixed Use Condos

The incumbent Township Committee members were defeated and plans for a new municipal building were scrapped. By the mid-2000s, the condition of the municipal building complex could no longer be ignored. The town reviewed several alternatives including a move to what was soon to be vacated hospital space, rehabbing a vacant production facility, and a financial analysis of a rehabilitation of the existing buildings.

While we were searching for options to replace the municipal building, the township’s largest taxpayer, Echelon Mall, was experiencing significant financial difficulties. Two of four anchor stores, Sears and JCPenney, closed in the late 1990s. The loss of the anchor stores led to the closure of the movie theatre and several of the specialty retailers. In 2003, Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT) purchased Echelon Mall. PREIT was intent on revitalizing the property and listened to community residents’ adamant concerns regarding smart growth, quality of life and competition. Ironically, during an exchange at a Committee Meeting, a group of residents, who recognized the embarrassing condition of the existing municipal building, proposed moving Town Hall to Echelon Mall. While the suggestion was made in jest, PREIT determined that the suggestion had viability and began looking into its feasibility.

Joseph F. Coradino, President of PREIT Services, LLC and PREIT-RUBIN, Inc., attended a seminar to learn about the emerging town center concept surrounding malls. He learned that bringing municipal services into the town center brings in patrons, promotes one-stop shopping, and worked well in the two municipalities where it was currently operating. Coradino and his staff met with the Township Committee and work began in earnest to relocate the Voorhees Municipal Offices into what would become Voorhees Town Center. PREIT, along with a residential developer partner, had committed to investing $150 million into the former Echelon Mall site, downsizing and rehabbing the mall itself, and adding high-end condominiums, apartments and office buildings, along with developing a main street with restaurants, shops and businesses occupying the street level.

Woman with baby in stroller filling out a form to get a copy of a birth certificate at the mall offices of the Township

 

Our Township Committee recognized that the mall’s financial health was critical to the financial health of the community. PREIT informed the township that if a deal could be made to bring the municipal offices into the Town Center, several businesses would also agreed to locate there.

PREIT structured the deal as a condominium space agreement with the township, providing 24,000 square feet of space at a reduced price. A contract for sale was completed in August 2010. With the anticipated sale of the old municipal complex space, the net acquisition cost was approximately $3.5 million. This compares to $5.2 million to rehab the existing Municipal Offices space, the least expensive of our other options. The financial projections showed with the new businesses relocating to Voorhees Town Center, the increased ratables from just those businesses would cover the 30-year bond payment for the purchase price.

Construction began in fall 2010, and the municipal offices relocated with a grand opening on May 16, 2011. Voorhees Town Hall is located on the second floor on the northwest outside corner of the mall, with a separate exterior entrance and an interior mall entrance. The second floor of the Mall at Voorhees Town Center also houses the Camden County Store along with other businesses. Community members are already benefiting from the relocation.

“The transformation of the former Echelon Mall into Voorhees Town Center has brought renewed energy and life to the site,” said Mayor of Voorhees Michael R. Mignogna. “Moving our Town Hall to the Town Center was another step in creating the “downtown” Voorhees never had.  It is an area where our residents can live, eat, work and play.  It has become the ‘heartbeat’ of our community.”

And mall management agrees. “The addition of Town Hall as an anchor for our mixed-use project provides the synergy we were looking for,” said Coradino, “We are able to blend national retailers with the best of regional and local restaurants, shops and services, and thereby create a new downtown for Voorhees.”

 

Originally published in New Jersey Municipalities, Volume 88, Number 9, December 2011

Privacy Statement | NJLM FAQ
New Jersey State League of Municipalities • 222 West State Street • Trenton, NJ 08608 • (609) 695-3481
  FAX: (609) 695-0151