Improvements at the Lawrence Shopping Center, renovation of Quaker Bridge Mall, and the development of the Mrs. G’s site to include a McDonald’s, Wawa, gas station, TD Bank and additional retail space are just a few of the ways business is growing in Lawrence Township.
Lawrence mayor Cathleen Lewis spent the bulk of her State of the Township address taking her audience on a virtual tour of the businesses in town and the new development that will be happening over the next few years.
“I don’t want to talk about where we are, I want to talk about how we are moving forward,” she said.
As she delivered her speech at the May 21 meeting of the MidJersey Chamber of Commerce at Greenacres County Club, Lewis started her figurative tour in the south end of Lawrence and worked across town, along the way noting important businesses and those with plans to move there in the near future.
Among the already established businesses that Lewis mentioned were Buttons Creperie, the Route 1 Diner, the renovated Colonial Lanes, and Quaker Bridge Mall, where, she joked, she can see her daughters making a large investment into the economy over the next decade.
One of the sites Lewis mentioned that is currently under redevelopment is the Lawrence Shopping Center.
“You may have noticed that after many years of neglect, the Lawrence Shopping Center has new life,” she said. “The new owners have not only invested in the infrastructure, but have engaged business owners and the community.”
She added that Colliers International, the new owner, has offered to host a growth and redevelopment event in town later this year.
Lewis also commented on Mrs. G’s recent move. She applauded the investment that owner Debbie Schaeffer has made in her new site and described the new development that will happen on the former site of the store, which is set to include a McDonald’s, Wawa, gas station, TD bank and 15,000 square feet of additional retail.
The mayor also referred to an expansion project at Mercer Mall and indicated her own excitement that the expansion will include a Nordstrom Rack, which also received applause from the audience.
Other upcoming projects Lewis mentioned included a newly approved Boys and Girls Club, Costco and a proposed new Bristol-Myers Squibb campus.
After finishing her tour, Lewis turned her attention to other matters like the curbside organic pickup program she is working on, and last year’s Comcast franchise agreement, which included a $50,000 technology grant to find ways to reduce the town’s paper use.
Toward the end of her speech, Lewis discussed challenges the town still faces, including a tax burden placed on the town by the state. She said Lawrence has proven that it can stay within the budget cap and provide necessary services, and that it actively seeks shared services, currently participating in 20 formal agreements and another 20 informal agreements, as well as public-private partnerships.
“But,” she concluded, “without relief from the unfair burdens the state places on us, budgeting continues to be difficult.”
Lewis summed up her speech by declaring, “Today I am here to say that we as a town are prepared to address these hurdles, to seek out shared services, to find new solutions, utilize technology and innovate to meet our new challenges. And we will do so knowing that our businesses are growing, redevelopment is happening across the town each day and that our community is engaged.”
After the speech, Lewis opened the floor to questions, the first of which was “Do we have a date on the Nordstrom?”
However, she also received more serious questions, including one about what is happening near the Business Route 1 district. Lewis replied that the current plans are to widen the roadway, create a traffic circle to ease the flow of traffic, and to make the area look more like a downtown.
Members of the town council were very enthusiastic about the mayor’s address.
“I wholeheartedly support the presentation today. It’s a reflection of the council’s hard work and the town’s faith in us,” councilman Steve Brame said.
Councilman Jim Kownacki agreed, saying that the development described in the talk was “a positive outcome on the hard work the Lawrence council has done over the past two years.
“From where we were two years ago with massive layoffs,” he said, “today shows that the Lawrence council can come up with a good budget, stay within the 2 percent cap and bring business back to Lawrence Township.”