The Hamilton portion of Foxmoor Shopping Center stretches from the clocktower to Friendly’s, and includes two vacant restaurant sites. (Staff photo by Laura Pollack.)

Progress might be hard to see today, but the new owners of Foxmoor Shopping Center say the gears have been set in motion to make it a whole new plaza by this time next year.

Pennmark Management Company Inc. has told Robbinsville Township officials that the long-ignored complex on the Hamilton-Robbinsville border is on track to be fully leased within 2019. The plaza will soon receive cosmetic and operational improvements to match its reemergence as an in-demand location.

Pennmark purchased the center for $7.5 million during an online action Aug. 1, and closed on the property Sept. 13 after some delay with the final paperwork. Now more than three months after taking over, Pennmark says phones are ringing off the hook with businesses looking to get space in the center.

Two new leases have been signed, with two more under negotiation and even more in the early stages of talks. Fit Body Boot Camp has signed to take 3,000 square feet in the old Everson’s Karate location, and Mathnasium will occupy 1,5000 square feet in the former Bricks 4 Kidz suite, said Justin Bartholomew, head of leasing for Foxmoor Shopping Center. Under negotiation currently are a lease for a 4,000-square-foot unit and another for a 15,000-square-foot portion of the old Thriftway anchor. Bartholomew said the business looking at taking some of the anchor space is anxious to find and open another location quickly.

“We’re getting calls every day,” Bartholomew said. “It shows the strength and potential of this center.”

Additionally, Pennmark has had discussions with a franchise about taking 2,000 square feet in Foxmoor; this is the second round of talks with the organization, which Bartholomew declined to name. The parties were close to a deal earlier in 2018, but the deal fell apart when original franchisee moved to Florida. The corporation is now back negotiating with a new franchisee.

Pennmark also did a market study about the viability of a grocery store in Foxmoor Shopping Center, and told Robbinsville Township officials they are focusing on bringing a smaller, niche market to the plaza. For years, residents in the township have lobbied to bring popular grocers Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods to the center, but Robbinsville Township Director of Community Development Hal English said Pennmark probably won’t be able to fulfill that wish.

“No, not Trader Joe’s,” English said. “They’re not coming.”

That said, Bartholomew acknowledged they have heard the community regarding its desires for Foxmoor Shopping Center, and have kept them in mind while populating the center.

“We’re looking at all the directions people wanted us to go,” Bartholomew said. “We’re not ready to say no to any potential tenant at this time.”

Temporary signage is up for some of Foxmoor Shopping Center’s new tenants, such as Mathnasium shown here. (Staff photo by Laura Pollack.)

While Pennmark has kept an open mind when it comes to the future of Foxmoor, the company actually has declined to do business with a couple of potential tenants. English said Pennmark management told him the company will not lease to tenants in their facilities that “don’t help other tenants or don’t fit the demographic.”

“They don’t just lease space, and say, ‘Well, let’s get it up and running,’” he said. “We’re very happy to hear that.”

Saying “no” to business may seem like an unwise strategy based on Foxmoor’s last decade, but it appears to be a luxury Pennmark has. Since taking over Foxmoor at the lowest occupancy rate in its history, Pennmark has wasted no time in putting its mark on the center. Existing tenant Gifted signed a lease to expand into a second, neighboring suite.

Several businesses are vying over available corner units in the existing standalone building fronting Route 33. Pennmark also has explored the potential of adding a pad site to the complex in the future.

Crews have removed dead trees, an act that cleaned up the plaza and opened it up to allow improved visibility from Route 33. This month, the developer and Robbinsville Township officials will ask the state Department of Transportation to allow them to build a right-in and right-out driveway on Route 33 that will allow direct access from the highway to the shopping center.

The buildings themselves will get a new facade soon, as well. Pennmark would have liked to have the facelift finished already, English said, but improvements are stalled until someone can find the architectural plans for the center. The plans are needed in order to look at the buildings’ structure, but the architect that built Foxmoor Shopping Center went out of business and previous owners did not have blueprints to share. In mid-December, Robbinsville Township staff were in the process of searching to see if anything exists in the municipality’s records.

Pennmark also plans to redo the parking lot, landscaping and signage in Foxmoor in the coming months, English said. He did not know the exact timeline, which will be part of a forthcoming plan Pennmark will present to township officials.

The developer has been in constant communication with Robbinsville, though. On Nov. 28, Bartholomew attended a township planning board meeting and explained Pennmark’s plans going forward to members. Pennmark CEO Donald F. Cafiero met with Robbinsville administration officials and council members Dec. 6 at the municipal building to give a similar briefing.

Many storefronts at the Foxmoor Shopping Center remain empty. (Staff photo by Laura Pollack.)

Robbinsville officials have said that they are overall pleased with how Pennmark’s ownership of Foxmoor has gone so far, a sentiment the developer shares. Bartholomew said Pennmark has done no advertising for the center or its availabilities yet, and has sold space just by word of mouth. Pennmark’s main focus has been restoring the center, cleaning up vacant stores and actively showing the spaces a few times a week.

Maintenance staff is there every day, ensuring everything is clean and operational before Pennmark enacts any improvement or expansion plans.

“Our first priority is stabilizing the patient,” he said. “We’re not quite there yet.”

Still, English says he notices a difference at the center already, despite no new businesses opening yet.

“I drove over to take a look, and I just sort of pulled over in the main road,” English said. “I must have had three or four cars beep and go around me. I’m not used to that kind of traffic in there. That’s a good sign.”

Hamilton Township economic development director Marty Flynn said he also is pleased at the progress, even though Hamilton and its administration haven’t had much to do with it. Flynn said Robbinsville officials have taken the lead in rejuvenating the plaza, and he has yet to speak with Robbinsville’s administration or Pennmark’s executives about the center. However, Flynn said he has a call into English to offer Hamilton’s assistance and to get contact information for Pennmark’s CEO.

While the majority of Foxmoor Shopping Center is in Robbinsville, one building of the plaza is actually in Hamilton. The building houses Friendly’s, Massimo’s Italian restaurant and two vacant restaurant locations most recently occupied by Ploy Siam and Brothers BBQ.

“We want them to succeed, and we’ll help out in any way we can,” Flynn said.