Brian O'Neill has a vision for the brick-and-mortar retailer of the future, one that embraces technology in a time when technology has disrupted the shopping experience.
Eye-popping, full-building LED signs and media towers. Digital shopping kiosks. Bar codes that patrons can scan with their smartphones as they walk from store to store.
It's actually more than a vision. It's the plan O'Neill has for the sprawling mall and outdoor shopping complex that will anchor Luxury Point at Sayreville, the long-awaited, 8 million-square-foot mega project along the Garden State Parkway.
“We are the iPad of malls and outdoor shopping,” said O'Neill, founder and chairman of O'Neill Properties Group. “The millennial, the customer of today — they run their lives digitally, so if we want those customers, we have to run our lives digitally and we have to build our facilities digitally.”
For the King of Prussia, Pa.-based developer, that vision is closer to being realized after years of planning and complex environmental cleanup at its 440-acre, waterfront project site. On May 16, state officials awarded the project a $223 million tax-reimbursement grant under the state's Economic Redevelopment and Growth program.
The pledge allows the firm to finance the infrastructure for the site and move ahead with the highly visible project, O'Neill said. By year's end, he expects to break ground on the first 700,000 square feet of outdoor retail, including a store for Bass Pro Shops, and the first piece of its 2,000-unit residential component.
The project is expected to cost more than $2 billion, including remediation and development costs, O'Neill said. And the firm projects Luxury Point will generate some 5,400 construction jobs and 3,900 permanent jobs upon full build-out.
Completing the project would mark a transformation for a site that has been hard to miss as it lay fallow for years, sitting under 24 lanes of traffic on the Parkway and Routes 9 and 35. It served for decades as the home to a National Lead paint pigment manufacturing facility, which left behind untold contamination from dumped chemicals and other waste along the Raritan Bay.
In fact, state officials recently called it the “single largest Brownfield redevelopment project in New Jersey's history.” Remediation has taken place for some 15 years, and the property spent years caught in a web of litigation involving National Lead and government agencies at all levels.
Remediation is “wrapping up” this year, making way for “the first omnichannel, digitally inspired mall and shopping venue” that uses more digital signage than Times Square and Las Vegas combined, he said. And why not? Some 400,000 drivers pass the site each day, a steady audience for the digital facades and media towers planned for the property.
“Every retailer is talking about driving sales into their stores — and mobile and e-commerce — but nobody has ever used real estate to accomplish that,” O'Neill said.
Plans call for O'Neill to develop the mall portion with Taubman Co., the Bloomfield Hills, Mich.-based retail developer and operator of the Mall at Short Hills.
Real estate and retail observers have watched the project for years, so there's no shortage of anticipation. Jason Pierson, a Marlboro-based retail broker, said there are now tenant deals in the works and the potential for more as buzz continues to build.
And that buzz will only grow as O'Neill starts work on the Bass Pro store, an anchor that “really validates the project (and) … just brings in a critical mass of people.”
“Now that it's really starting to move and progress — and it's real — everybody's going to start to take a hard look at it,” said Pierson, president of Pierson Commercial Real Estate.
He said the location is another key ingredient. With nearby connections to the New Jersey Turnpike, Interstate 287 and other major highways, the site is less than an hour from large swaths of New Jersey, and even Brooklyn and Staten Island, N.Y.
Throw in the fact that retailers, quite simply, are thirsty for new locations.
“There's really a lack of new construction in New Jersey and a lack of inventory,” he said. “And there's an abundance of retailers that are out there looking for space.”
Luxury Point at a glance
3,000,000 square feet of retail and entertainment
40,000 square feet of office
1,424 luxury apartments
750 hotel rooms
576 waterfront townhomes