Officials are happy to see the beginnings of a process that could breathe life back into an area of town that has remained stagnant for years.
Vornado Realty Trust has apparently purchased the rights to develop Wayne Towne Center, a shopping complex next to the Willowbrook Mall that has remained underdeveloped for years. A representative with Vornado said in an e-mail that the company “is not making any comments on the transaction or plans at this time.” City officials said that at present, there are no applications for use or zoning variances for the site on file in the building department.
But the Bergen Record reported Feb. 9 that Vornado has purchased a leasehold interest in the site for $12.1 million from San Francisco-based Wells Fargo and Co.
“It was once a vibrant retail center,” said Councilwoman Lonni Miller Ryan. “Now it will create a synergy with Willowbrook and make it an even more desirable shopping destination for people.”
The Center, formerly known as the West Belt Mall, housed an indoor shopping mall from its founding in the 1970s until the late 2000s when Borders Books and Music, Daffy’s and Old Navy left the Center. Fortunoff, one of the Center’s anchor stores, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and closed their mall store down in 2009. JC Penny is the only remaining anchor store remaining. The main structure has since been demolished. A fence was placed around the now-empty land, a stark reminder of the vibrant shopping center that used to be located there.
An Olive Garden, TGIFriday’s, which used to be located in the Center, DSW Shoe Warehouse and a Bahama Breeze, have been constructed in the Center’s parking lot.
The 50-acre site, located near Routes 23 and 46, has an assessed value of more than $16 million. The buildings on the site have an assessed value of more than $6.6 million. The town collected almost $2.3 million in taxes on the site last year.
“It is definitely good news because the property has been in trouble since the demise of Fortunoff and we thought it was going to be developed by someone else,” said Councilman Joseph Scuralli. “I’m glad to see that the place is going to be redeveloped and I’m hoping they go forward with constructing restaurants. I’m interested to see strong development that would be good for the town and good for the tax rolls.”
The majority of the township is already developed so redevelopment projects such as this one provide an opportunity for the town to increase its ratable base without having to purchase land or enter into a costly development project of its own.
“Projects like this are exactly what Wayne needs,” Ryan said. “Its proximity to the highways make it a natural for this large-scale development. I feel that Wayne Towne Center has the ability to bring the right ratables to the right place for the township.”
What would you like to see built on the property? Let us know in the comment box below.