Since the early 2000s, Cherry Hill’s bustling complex Towne Place at Garden State Park has grown and evolved in the former Garden State Park racetrack and nothing, not even the pandemic, has stopped the ongoing project.
M&M Realty Partners envisioned a shopping center and residential development in the former racetrack site. The racetrack closed in 2001 and was demolished around 2004. The developers moved the development forward in phases over the next 17 years.
In 2020, Garden State Park opened TJ Maxx, HomeGoods, Trader Joe’s and a Costco Wholesale store, and signed leases for Sugar Factory American Brasserie, Wild Fork Foods, a meat and seafood market, and Trinity Rehab.
In January, the company signed leases for national food chains Chopt Creative Salad Co., a salad and grain bowl eatery, and &pizza, known for its oblong-shaped pies. They also negotiated with several other tenants yet to be announced.
“There’s been an explosion of activity,” said Joe Morris, executive vice president of leasing for M&M Realty Partners.
With the new cast of operators, there will be openings at the shopping center starting at the end of this year and into 2021. Among them is the much-anticipated is Sugar Factory, which announced in November it would replace Zinburger at the location in mid-2021.
The confectionery business is known for its extravagant sweets and goblet drinks that have attracted celebrities including Kendall and Kylie Jenner, Britney Spears and Drake. There are no updates on construction yet.
Cherry Hill will be one of 15 new Sugar Factory locations scheduled to open in the near future.
“We’re very, very excited,” Morris said.
Zinburger closed in March 2020 after the statewide indoor dining restrictions for restaurants were instituted to flatten the COVID-19 curve. The developers immediately reached out to several restaurants they had a relationship with, including Sugar Factory.
With more than a dozen locations across the country, the new restaurant will be the second in New Jersey; the first one is at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City.
The company added a location in Cherry Hill to expand into a more suburban area to satisfy a family-friendly demographic, representatives said.
“We are excited to introduce our high-energy, sweet restaurant and brand to the residents of Cherry Hill, New Jersey,” said Larry Rudolph, a partner at Sugar Factory. “From our colorful and vibrant dishes to our over-the-top desserts, every moment at Sugar Factory Cherry Hill will offer guests a memorable and Instagrammable experience from the minute they walk in to the minute they leave.”
Surviving the pandemic
From a “COVID impact standpoint,” restaurants like Chopt and &pizza and grocers such as Trader Joe’s and Wild Fork, joining the shopping center is a success that Morris said couldn’t have happened without the township.
“Cherry Hill did an outstanding job really reacting and responding to the needs as they were changing … whether it’s drive-thrus … [or] wider sidewalks to accommodate outdoor seating,” Morris said. “We were proud that these next batch of tenants that were coming in, which thankfully is significant, are … able to have those needs addressed.”
The pandemic changed how Morris and his team looked at phases of the project, he said. Specifically, with the pandemic ongoing, they are watching how new developments will drive consumer demand this year and beyond.
Morris, who’s been involved in the Cherry Hill project since 2004, said he’s never seen the level of activity and interest in leasing since he joined.
“I lay the challenge down – how many states, how many cities, how many towns, in the midst of COVID-19 got to witness a Costco, a Trader Joe’s, a TJ Maxx, a Home Goods opening up in one project?” Morris said. “How many of those people saw the signing of Sugar Factory, the signing of other restaurants … all the things that are happening over there?”
He attributes this “tribute to the strength of the project” to the proximity to Philadelphia and surrounding communities, and the township’s vision and planning efforts.
Along with the retail activity, Morris said five concierge-level apartment buildings will open in 2022.
The general development plan for the 225-acre site was amended to add a hotel with a 5,600-square-foot rooftop restaurant and bar, an Old Navy store, additional retail space of almost 18,000 square feet, as well as the expansion of an existing street, Town Center Drive, into what is now a pedestrian plaza between two commercial buildings.
“It’ll be a grand boulevard … [and] mixed-use,” Morris said. “We have retail, a ‘Class A’ office space. We will have a hotel and bar up top and then your grand boulevard of residential included in that. Then you pick up at the traffic light and [it] goes right into Costco. So, it just makes life a lot easier for the residents that work and live there.”
An ’economic powerhouse in South Jersey’
With the addition of Sugar Factory and other developments, Mayor Susan Shin Angulo said Cherry Hill has established itself as the “economic powerhouse in South Jersey.”
Since the early 1960s, Cherry Hill has been a shopping destination for the Philadelphia area, beginning when the Cherry Hill Mall opened as the first climate-controlled indoor mall in the eastern United States.
Towne Place at Garden State Park in Cherry Hill continues to grow, despite pandemic