9/09/2004

Make Way for $40M Mall

By Jaime Marine

The proposed building of a $40 million shopping center — near the Millville Town Center on Route 47 — has some local business people in that area concerned.

Over the past few months, city officials have prepared an ordinance which authorizes condemnation proceedings in accordance with local redevelopment and housing laws and eminent domain.

This ordinance — which would deal with approximately eight parcels along the highway including land where Pizza Hut, the Animal Hospital of Millville and the Goodwill now occupy — was tabled, but it is expected to be revisited at a later date.

The condemnation of these parcels would make room for the new shopping center and this ordinance would be a proactive measure to ensure the shopping center project continues should an agreement not be reached by the developers and business owners, officials said.

Michael Shaw, vice-president of retail operations for Goodwill, said he is upset at the prospect of losing the Millville store because it is an essential part of Goodwill's operation.

"It is a successful store for us," he said. "Eighty-three percent of the profits (from this location) go back into our mission for job education and training. We are not pleased that we could be losing a location."

Shaw said to his knowledge no one has contacted the Goodwill about this issue and he feels it would be possible, but improbable for the organization to do the same business at a different location.

"I don't know if we can serve the community as well at another location that is so convenient," he said. "We don't want to sell, our intention was to stay here and create revenue for the mission. At this point, I turn it over to the attorney and we will do what is necessary to protect our property or maximize what is due to us."

Council for the animal hospital could not be reached Wednesday, but a petition has been sent out which speaks against using eminent domain and says there is no reason the animal hospital and the shopping complex cannot co-exist.

Steve Durst, director of site acquisitions for Goodman Properties (which is looking to construct the shopping center), said the group has no intention of forcing businesses out.

"The issue is about fairness both ways," he said. "We should pay a fair price and they should accept a fair price. Our track record in the county is one of fairness and our reputation for that is beyond question."

Durst said the company does not want to see anyone hurt or sell for less than what the property is worth and he said they will continue to talk and negotiate with the parties involved and offer fair market value or above for the properties.

The group — which said they have received interest from stores such as Target, ShopRite, Kohl's, Pet Smart, Office Max, Office Depot and other smaller units — is expecting to submit a preliminary site plan within the next 30 to 60 days and then things will start to move forward, Durst said.

"At that point, real meaningful conversations will take place and hopefully lead to agreements," he said.

As for the issue of eminent domain that is something the city will have to decide on its own, Durst said.

As for Goodman Properties, the organization has sent a letter to the city relating their intentions and Durst said they will continue to have an open policy in regards to the property.

Vice Mayor Jim Parent said the city respects all its residents' opinions, but progress has to move forward.

"You are talking jobs (approximately 1,000) and ratables, and that is something we need in our city," he said. "It (the ordinance) is not an ultimatum by any means. It is a business decision that has to be made by the city and it is an option for every municipality. I think we have to sit at the table and further negotiate and that is why the ordinance was pulled."


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