Plans for Monmouth Square, Kushner Cos. redevelopment of the Monmouth Mall property in Eatontown, call for the addition of new apartment buildings and landscaped, walkable public space that figures to host farmer’s markets, live entertainment and other programming meant to draw retail customers and residents from both the borough and neighboring towns. — Rendering courtesy: Kushner
By Joshua Burd
Kushner Cos. has signed a 40,000-square-foot lease to bring Whole Foods to Eatontown, landing a key tenant as it advances its plan to transform the sprawling Monmouth Mall property.
The developer, which recently secured a key local approval for the project, said the upscale grocer will occupy a building currently housing Barnes & Noble. The bookseller will ultimately move to another portion of the mall property at the junction of routes 35 and 36, which Kushner aims to overhaul under a plan that calls for building 1,000 new luxury apartments, reducing and reconfiguring the existing retail space and creating a roughly two-acre public green that would become the new focal point of the 100-acre site.
News of the deal comes after the Eatontown borough council approved Kushner’s high-profile, long-awaited redevelopment plan for the property. The April 26 vote paves the way for other steps such as submitting a site plan application, likely later this spring, for what will be known as Monmouth Square.
“You can almost consider it an endorsement of our vision here, in that Whole Foods doesn’t just take any location lightly,” said Michael Sommer, Kushner’s executive vice president for development and construction. “So the fact that they were attracted to this particular location and our property specifically makes us feel that much more bullish on Eatontown and on the property.”
Kushner expects to begin demolition in the fourth quarter to facilitate Barnes & Noble’s move, Sommer said. It will be one step in a major overhaul of the mall’s 1.5 million square feet of existing retail space, which the firm will reduce to around 900,000 square feet, largely by demolishing the shuttered Lord & Taylor and JCPenney stores at the site.
In the process, Kushner will convert the property to an open-air retail destination, as it originally was when the mall opened in 1960. That would help anchor the site as the developer adds new uses, including midrise apartment buildings and landscaped, walkable public space that figures to host farmer’s markets, live entertainment and other programming meant to draw retail customers and residents from both Eatontown and neighboring towns.
“Monmouth Mall has been a destination in the community for several decades,” said Nicole Kushner Meyer, the firm’s president. “The redevelopment of the property will modernize and diversify the offerings to include a supermarket, medical offices, public green and residences to create a different dynamic.”
Kushner has already added medical office space to the site, thanks to a long-term ground lease with Rendina Healthcare Real Estate. The parcel is home to a newly completed, 80,000-square-foot building that is leased and operated by RWJBarnabas Health, while Rendina is seeking approvals for a second project that would add some 30,000 square feet.
Redevelopment of the mall property is some eight years in the making and has faced pockets of local opposition from residents and political candidates. But Anthony Talerico, the borough’s mayor, said it was critical to reinvent the property and preserve the municipality’s largest tax ratable, especially with changing consumer habits and the sagging performance of traditional shopping malls.
He believes support for the project has increased over time, he said, noting that securing an early commitment from the likes of Whole Foods will only improve that sentiment.
“We wanted to see significant commercial and retail first, as opposed to a lot of upfront residential,” Talerico said. “I believe having Whole Foods as a quality vendor coming in first would mean a lot for the town. Some good, clean redevelopment and a nice supermarket for choice in the area would bode well.”
Sommer said the town’s support has been critical to reaching the most recent milestones and allowing discussions to advance in the months ahead.
“This hasn’t been simply a Kushner-driven process,” Sommer said. “It’s really been a collaborative process with the borough. I would say that the mall’s success is the borough’s success, and vice versa. And, as the biggest tax ratable in the borough, we obviously recognize the responsibility that goes along with that — and the borough has always recognized the importance of making sure that the mall evolves into something far more sustainable than it is today.”
Kushner, which also owns Pier Village in Long Branch, said the Whole Foods lease is part of curating a tenant mix that will play to the strengths of the retail sector and provide new services for residents. It ultimately hopes to expand the site’s food and beverage options, add convenience retail and bolster existing entertainment offerings such as the AMC movie theater, which will remain under the redevelopment plan.
“We always imagined this property to revolutionize the way residents and visitors engage within their surroundings,” Meyer said. “We envision doing that by combining retail, entertainment and community spaces to create an immersive destination.”
Monmouth Square and Whole Foods were both represented by the respective in-house teams, while the tenant was also represented by Chase Welles of The Shopping Center Group.