If a developer has his way, the Shoppes at Hamilton will cease to exist just shy of its 11th birthday.
Metrix Real Estate Services is looking to raze the site and build a 170,000-square-foot warehouse in place of the long-beleaguered shopping plaza along Route 130 North. The project is pending township approval.
If the plan is approved by Hamilton Township, the only remnants of the Shoppes at Hamilton will be two pad sites at the front of the property, currently occupied by Berkshire Bank and Hamilton Tap and Grill. The bank and restaurant will both continue to operate despite the changes to the development.
Princeton-based Metrix Real Estate Services purchased the center in September 2019, becoming the third entity to own the property. Metrix managing partner Michael Nachamkin said the location attracted him—particularly for a warehouse—because it offered easy access to Interstate 195, opposite a Fedex distribution facility and down Route 130 from the United States Postal Service processing facility.
The property is zoned industrial already, which means in theory there are few barriers for the developer to transform the shopping plaza into a 170,000-square-foot, multi-tenant distribution center. For comparison, that’s the size of three football fields or half the size of the Fedex facility across Route 130.
However, township officials said there are still some aspects of the plan that need to be addressed before it can go before either the planning or zoning board. No time frame has been set yet for when it might reach a public agenda.
Still, the project marches on. Metrix updated its website in January to say that “a retail to industrial and retail transformation” is “coming soon” to the Shoppes at Hamilton.
Multiple sources with knowledge of the project said the new landlord contacted businesses in the plaza shortly after purchasing it, notifying them that they would have to find new homes in 2020. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to discuss the project publicly.
Nachamkin contradicted this, saying many of the tenants had left or were planning to leave before he purchased the center.
Metrix assisted business owners in finding new locations, and the first wave of businesses began to relocate in January. Just four suites remained occupied as of mid-February: Color Me Mine, Forever Hart Fit, The Little Gym and Julie Nachamkin Artist Studio—a recent addition to the center operated by the wife of the developer. Sources said the retail spaces will be completely vacant by the start of May.
Tenants at the Shoppes at Hamilton also included Chico’s, Children’s Place, Clark’s, Loft, New York & Company, Rack Room Shoes, Sleep Number and White House Black Market.
Rumors had swirled for months about the fate of the complex, with the scheme to transform the Shoppes at Hamilton into warehouse being the worst-kept secret in town since it was first hatched in October 2019. But, until now, neither the developer nor the municipal government had offered definitive confirmation that the redevelopment was more than just rumors.
The Hamilton Post had worked since mid-October 2019 to find an official source confirm or deny the Shoppes at Hamilton rumors on the record.
Stoltz Management, the longtime owner of the plaza, did not return multiple calls for comment. Broker CBRE, which still is listed as the leasing agent on the Shoppes’ website, also did not return multiple messages. Two commercial real estate firms, when contacted by the Hamilton Post in Fall 2019, could not find any record that a sale of the property had been completed.
Former Hamilton Township economic development director Marty Flynn told the Hamilton Post he didn’t even know the center had been sold until a November 2019 meeting with a tenant of the Shoppes at Hamilton. Flynn said it was there he learned that most of the businesses would be moving out of the center and into new locations in the coming months.
Flynn said, at the time, that most of the demand in Hamilton and other municipalities is for warehouse space.
“The market is dictating warehousing,” Flynn said in early November 2019. “It’s a good, clean rateable, and we’re glad to have it.”
Flynn added that only one person who knows what’s truly going on at the Shoppes at Hamilton: Nachamkin, the new owner. The Hamilton Post spoke with Nachamkin Feb. 12, nearly four months after first attempting to contact him.
The developer has a similar project in Lawrence Township, where construction began on spec last year of a 340,000-square-foot warehouse just off Interstate 295 on Princess Road. The Lawrence warehouse project was approved unanimously by that township’s planning board in December 2018. The warehouse now is clearly visible near Exit 68 of I-295, after construction crews raised the structure’s large grey exterior walls in February.
And so begins the next chapter of the Shoppes at Hamilton’s history, which has been full of struggle from the start. Ground broke on the facility in early November 2007, one of several photo ops then-Mayor Glen Gilmore made in the week prior to the 2007 mayoral election. Gilmore ultimately lost that race to Republican John Bencivengo.
The Shoppes at Hamilton opened 18 months later, in May 2009. The plaza had issues immediately, particularly due to a lack of direct access from Route 130 South. Customers on Route 130 South had to take a miles-long detour through Yardville and onto the highway’s northbound side simply to access the center.
As a result, the Shoppes at Hamilton lost tenants quickly, including Italian restaurant Bensi, Nathan’s Hot Dogs and two Asian restaurants in the first couple of years. Other original tenants, like fast casual restaurant Bok Bok Fresh, never opened at all.
Business owners, including former Nathan’s franchisee Tom Park, had repeatedly asked the township and the center’s developer at the time, Stanbery, for a traffic light, saying it would improve the Shoppes at Hamilton’s fortunes.
Stoltz Management acquired the center from Stanbery for $9.75 million in March 2012, and agreed to foot the bill to install a temporary traffic light.
A temporary traffic light was installed eight months later, in late November 2012. That light was made permanent and a jughandle installed on Route 130 South in 2017, part of a deal made by FedEx in order to build a 340,000-square-foot warehouse distribution facility directly across the highway from the Shoppes at Hamilton.
The jughandle and traffic light allows access to the shopping center and the FedEx warehouse from either side of Route 130. But it did not visibly improve business for the tenants of the Shoppes at Hamilton. Should Metrix’s plan proceed, the junction would now serve as the main access point for trucks to the warehouses on both sides of the highway.
The Shoppes at Hamilton property, located at 537-557 Route 130 in Hamilton, was last assessed for $8.75 million, according to public records. It has a tax payment of $315,111.68 annually.