Robert Adinolfi, the chief operating officer of Renaissance Properties Inc., has spearheaded the development of The Shops at Old York Village, a mixed-use project in Chesterfield with 38,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial space and 34 apartments. The project will serve as a town center for Old York Village, a master-planned residential community spread across 500 acres. — All photos by Aaron Houston for Real Estate NJ
By Joshua Burd
Rob Adinolfi walked slowly down the sidewalk of The Shops at Old York Village in Chesterfield, detailing a plan for what he hopes will be an inviting, upscale destination for the hundreds of households in the immediate vicinity.
He also sees the project as an amenity to the township at large, one that can serve as a new downtown for the Burlington County community.
“The township really envisioned this as walkable and bikeable so that people didn’t have to leave their community to have these services,” said Adinolfi, the chief operating officer of Renaissance Properties Inc. “But the balance of Chesterfield and the surrounding areas are also thirsty for goods and services.”
The new town center is taking shape in Chesterfield, a small community just east of Bordentown, serving as the focal point of a 500-acre development that is two decades in the making. The Shops at Old York Village sits directly south of more than 1,000 townhomes, single-family dwellings and other units that developers have built over time, under a master-planned effort spearheaded by local officials.
The retail offering is one of the final pieces of the development area, which stretches from Old York Road to just south of the New Jersey Turnpike. It’s also among the most highly anticipated.
“We understood that in order to draw the retail, the residential component would need to be largely built out,” said Adinolfi, whose firm is based in Old Bridge. “Retailers like rooftops and if you look at the rooftops around here, they’re substantial now.”
Renaissance Properties has already delivered one half of the project, which calls for a total of nearly 38,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial space and 34 apartments. Through mid-July, the firm had leased about 60 percent of the retail space within the first phase, drawing tenants such as a hair salon that recently opened its doors and an early childhood care center that is slated to open this fall.
Construction will soon be underway across the street on what will be a mirror image of the two-story building, completing a corridor that is meant to look and feel like a walkable central business district. In the meantime, Renaissance Properties and its brokerage team with Pierson Commercial are seeking additional operators, including a restaurant that could provide outdoor seating and further add to the project’s Main Street vibe.
“We really want to complete this main thoroughfare, this downtown area,” Adinolfi said. “And we’ll get that symmetry — and I think that symmetry alone will help draw more people through here and let them know it’s no longer a construction site, but it’s your downtown.”
The project is the latest phase in a master plan that goes back more than 20 years. Local officials in 1999 designated the site as a receiving area for all major development within its borders, seeking to protect open space elsewhere in the township and preserve the community’s existing character. That has allowed prospective builders to transfer development rights from other parcels and lay the groundwork for what is now Old York Village, a collection of neo-traditional homes with interconnected streets and civic spaces.
Those builders have included Renaissance Properties, which acquired 100 of the receiving area’s 500 acres around 2005, Adinolfi said. After weathering the real estate downturn that ensued, the firm in 2012 partnered with American Properties to develop roughly 280 homes known as Traditions at Chesterfield.
“At the time it was a good way to move this project forward by doing that,” he said. “But we felt so strongly at Renaissance Properties that the mixed-use component was not only sorely needed within the town, but something that really is in our wheelhouse in terms of our portfolio and the assets that we like to create and hold, that we held onto that.”
With the master plan nearly complete, Old York Village now boasts more than a thousand households with attractive demographics for retailers, including families with working parents and younger children. Renaissance Properties and its brokers now feel there is pent-up demand for shops and services within both the development site and the township.
“Chesterfield is booming with residential growth of high-income families,” said Jason Pierson, president of Pierson Commercial. “It’s a beautiful area in a relatively affordable market, which has been a key driver for the high demand and market supply here.
“The market is lacking retailers to service the many families and residents of the community,” he added, citing operators such as eateries and medical, fitness, café and convenience tenants. “The project is a great lifestyle center in which we’re seeking restaurants and amenity providers to service the residents within the market.”
Fulfilling that vision has meant working closely with the township and its professionals, he said, in order to design a project that “suits the architectural theme of the community” and aligns with municipality’s original goals for the receiving area. The firm balanced those considerations with the need to create appealing spaces for business operators, as it made decisions on everything from building facades to awnings to color selections.
The Renaissance Properties team, which included CEO and founder Robert McDaid, also honed its concept by visiting successful downtowns such as Princeton. That allowed the firm “to see the elements that we liked and were trying to replicate — and then married that to the township’s ideas of what they wanted to see in the community.”
“We really gave it a lot of thought to make each segment of the mixed-use component special,” Adinolfi said. “We also wanted to give it the look that it was built over time, which is something that new construction sorely lacks.”
The developer has tried to make the space more appealing to retailers by having ample parking behind the commercial buildings, which will also keep traffic moving along property’s main boulevard. The firm also sought to ensure that the rear of the buildings will have an aesthetic that matches the storefronts, while providing the back-of-house infrastructure that tenants will need.
“Considering the constraints of the property itself and the amount of area we had, we were able to maximize the utility for the retail operators,” Adinolfi said. “And we’re a business that has over a hundred retail tenants — and we’ve been doing this for 30 years — so we understand the concerns of the business operators because we’ve lived through them for 30 years: rear loading, access points, signage, how they like their storefronts to look.”
Filling a need
Renaissance Properties is well-versed in bringing modern, high-end retail space to support an emerging residential community. The firm has done exactly that with the property known as Gables Plaza, a recently built, 58,225-square-foot center in Monroe Township.
The property, located at Applegarth and Federal roads, sits adjacent to the firm’s 71-unit active adult townhome community known as The Gables. That provides it with a ready-made pool of customers within walking distance, but executives say the center’s mix of shops and services is filling a larger need in an underserved part of the township.
“There are so many new communities that have been constructed in this particular section of Monroe in the last few years, and those people who move in — they don’t want to leave Monroe,” said Rob Adinolfi, Renaissance Properties’ chief operating officer. “They would rather stay here and spend their money here. And with the busy lifestyles that you see from couples with children, they don’t want to have to drive to Cranbury or East Windsor or Freehold or Manalapan.”
The firm began delivering portions of Gables Plaza in 2017, Adinolfi said, noting that the center is about 60 percent leased to tenants such as Dunkin Donuts, Amboy Bank and Hackensack Meridian Health, along with service-oriented businesses such as a nail salon, a beauty salon and a pharmacy.
Renaissance Properties now hopes to lure a full-service restaurant, offering a liquor license and a layout that would allow for outdoor seating and pedestrian traffic. The developer has designed the property to have dual end caps in the center of the main plaza, allowing for an open courtyard space and high visibility.
It’s among several reasons why Adinolfi sees the complex as a strong addition to Monroe’s commercial offerings, which have suffered in part “because of the stereotype of some of the older active adult communities.” Fortunately, he said, that has started to change.
“The demographic has shifted a little bit and, even in the active adult communities — particularly the newer ones — we’re seeing a demographic that is younger and closer to 55, versus on the older side of that bracket,” Adinolfi said. That includes recent retirees who have disposable income and “are looking to not leave Monroe to get services that they would reasonably expect, like a good restaurant.”