Fifteen years after starting the redevelopment of the former Garden State Park in Cherry Hill, Jack Morris still isn’t sure when the project will be fully complete.
But Morris, a principal of M&M Realty along with longtime business partner Joe Marino, said he knows one thing for sure: The next generation will likely face the same question of completion.
“We’re always building and rebuilding here,” he said. “It’s a little city. I don’t think we’ll ever be done here.”
Morris sat with media outlets recently to discuss the recent progress at Park Place at Garden State Park, the 220-acre mixed-use site that includes residential, retail, commercial and office.
The project, which has 1.2 million square feet of retail, has attracted some of the largest retailers and anchor shops in the country. Demand, Morris said, is bigger than supply. That has led to competing or similar entities, such as Trader Joe’s and Wegmans, as well as Shake Shack and Five Guys.
The massive redevelopment site also is going to be home to a new Costco, a luxury hotel and conference center — of which there are few in the area — as well as a new sports betting facility.
Morris, who also is the CEO and president of Edgewood Properties, detailed the current success and future plans for the property.
ROI-NJ: Let’s first address the residential properties. What do you have available?
Jack Morris: We have housing for all ages of living. (There are) rental homes for new beginners who may want to rent or buy. They can transition from an apartment starting at one bedroom and two bedrooms to condos. They can get two-bedroom condos or three- or four-bedroom townhomes, with basements, which, in most cases, are larger than most single-family homes.
We also have rental and affordable housing housing units, which we are very proud of.
ROI: On the commercial side, it looks like a mix of entertainment and business. What do you have?
JM: We have office spaces and a number of office tenants. In addition to retail, we have many great restaurants. There is also some nice nightlife. People who come after work have places to meet. We believe that we have built and created the destination place for people to want to go to shop and dine.
ROI: What other amenities elevate the project?
JM: There’s a seven-acre park, so there (is potential for) great outdoor activities. And the train station gives us proximity to Philadelphia, if you’re commuting. We think we’ve created something for everybody.
ROI: There are some pretty big national names for the retail space. How about local shops or tenants?
JM: I’m a big proponent of helping people who start businesses. One of the new things I’m building are food courts to give a chance to young men and women who don’t have half a million dollars to open a restaurant. And, if you don’t have money, we will help you.
Unfortunately, banks today can’t make character loans anymore. I have a whole division (to find the tenants). We’ve got hundreds of people who are working on (finding people).
ROI: Helping others appears to be a running theme for Park Place. What else have you done to help the community?
JM: We had a tenant that sold wedding dresses and gowns that filed for bankruptcy protection. As part of that (process), we ended up with about 800 wedding gowns and prom dresses. A liquidator came in and offered us a sum of money for them. I said, ‘No.’ I told my team to find women who need these dresses and can’t afford them.
We gave the wedding dresses to veterans, primarily, but also people in the community. We worked with the Camden County Board of Freeholders and had a benefit for veterans and their families. Brides had the opportunity to come out and pick dresses and accessories. More than 500 dresses were donated as a salute to our veterans.
And RWJBarnabas, which I’m chairman of, full disclosure, gave the prom dresses out. We had an educational awareness event for young ladies, 14-16, that focused on violence prevention and promoting healthy relationships. Those young women had the benefit of getting those dresses.
So, we were proud of what we were able to do from the unfortunate situation of someone having to file for bankruptcy.
ROI: Anything else?
JM: When we went through the recession, we thought it was important to keep people’s property values, rather than sell more homes quickly. So, we didn’t fire sale anything. We waited through the recession.
I think that that really says a lot. I hope that our residents understand that we didn’t come in and say we’re just going to build a cheaper product. I understand public companies have to do what’s best for their stockholders and investors, but we’re a private company and we didn’t have to do that.