The mall will have entrances made to resemble Fifth Avenue storefronts, restrooms cut from a four-star hotel and a food court that's been upgraded to a “dining emporium.”
And no, we're not talking about American Dream.
Nearly 15 years after opening in Elizabeth, the Jersey Gardens outlet mall has quietly received a $30 million makeover from its owner, Glimcher Realty Trust. The effort comes as two other colossal, long-awaited retail projects grab headlines and loom on the horizon in New Jersey, but executives with the 1.3 million-square-foot mall say the upgrade is more about keeping up its own pace as an international shopping destination.
"It's just part of how we operate," said Michael Glimcher, chairman and CEO of the Columbus, Ohio-based real estate investment trust. "We never want to be in a position where we're forcing ourselves to play defense."
The new-look mall will debut later this month as the Outlet Collection at Jersey Gardens, a brand that's being pushed elsewhere in Glimcher's portfolio. Aside from complete exterior and interior renovations, the center also is touting new tenants, such as Coach and Century 21, to create a high-end feel for its 18 million annual bargain hunters.
The mall landscape is starting to look crowded — even for New Jersey.
Just 15 miles from Jersey Gardens, developer Triple Five has spent three years working to reboot the failed Xanadu megamall as American Dream Meadowlands. It's still in legal limbo, but secured key government approvals this year, moving it closer to bringing 3 million square feet of new retail and entertainment space to North Jersey.
Then, there's Luxury Point at Sayreville, a 440-acre redevelopment plan that would deliver more than 2.5 million square feet of retail to Central Jersey after years of environmental cleanup at a site along the Garden State Parkway.
But even with that much competition, Jersey Gardens isn't going to wilt, retail experts said.
"There's enough business for everybody," said Chuck Lanyard, president of the Paramus-based Goldstein Group, pointing to the state's robust consumer base.
Additionally, each mall has a different driver. For Jersey Gardens, it's pricing. American Dream would draw on restaurants and entertainment amenities, such as a theme park, Lanyard said, while the Point expects to feed off anchor tenants such as Bass Pro Shop.
"Certainly any new retail is competition for us, but we've worked really hard to establish that tourism base, which is so important for us," Denise Palazzo, Jersey Gardens' general manager, said. "And our location has really solidified that for us."
Tourism, in fact, accounts for about 36 percent of the mall's customer base, a figure made possible by that location — less than 20 miles from New York City and a five-minute shuttle ride from Newark Liberty International Airport. By 11 a.m. on recent weekday morning, the mall had drawn visitors from at least 45 countries, Palazzo said. It's a statistic that management tracks by offering guests a free coupon book if they check in at a Jersey Gardens concierge desk.
The outlet model has also appealed to local shoppers who have made Jersey Gardens their go-to mall over 15 years, said Jason Pierson, a Marlboro-based retail broker. He didn't expect the center to take a hit as other large projects come online.
"It's destination oriented, so it has that brand awareness," said Pierson, president of Pierson Commercial Real Estate. "They already have the customer base that's going there."
And outlets are increasingly successful nationwide, experts said, as recession-weary shoppers become more cost-conscious and open to value shopping. That has caused Glimcher to do a similar renovation project at an outlet mall in Seattle. He said the company will start to look for acquisition opportunities across the country, and at some point will consider new ground-up development.
Glimcher called outlet malls "a somewhat recession-proof category."
"It certainly held up better than our full-price (stores) did during the downturn, and it's just continued," he said.
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