After years of neglect, College Square Shopping Center is on the verge of a major redevelopment project to transform the aging, vacancy-plagued site into a mixed-use complex featuring retail shops, restaurants and apartments.
City council approved the project Monday, and the developer, Fusco Enterprises, hopes to have the construction done within two years, attorney Michael Hoffman said. The exact timetable has yet to be determined, and no new tenants have been disclosed.
“We’re proposing a vibrant, walkable, bikeable, active-lifestyle center to take the place of what has become a tired 1980s shopping center,” Hoffman told council Monday.
The project has been in the works for several years and has gone through a number of iterations before Fusco settled on the current plan.
Renovations on the north side of College Square – where Acme and the former Sears Hardware are – began two years ago, and those buildings will remain.
The southern portion of the site, however, will look much different.
The area will retain some retail space, while 306 apartments will be built in the southeast quadrant of the site, the portion that currently contains Hair Cuttery and Payless Shoes.
Most of the units will have one or two bedrooms, with a handful of three-bedroom units mixed in. The apartment complex will also feature a lounge/concierge area, leasing center, business center, fitness center, media room and an outdoor area with a pool.
Fusco also plans to build a road through the center of the shopping plaza – essentially extending Delaware Avenue through to Marrows Road.
In between the lanes of the road will be a community plaza containing tables and benches. The plaza will create a neighborhood atmosphere and also serve as a traffic calming measure, Hoffman said.
Surrounding the central road will be five buildings, expected to be occupied by a coffee shop and restaurants with outdoor seating.
Two more standalone retail buildings – expected to house a fast-casual or drive-thru restaurant and a pharmacy with a drive-thru – are planned for the side near Library Avenue, including one where Pep Boys is now.
Pep Boys, which is one of the few longtime tenants that remains in College Square, will be leaving the shopping center, Hoffman confirmed Monday.
WSFS Bank, however, will remain, and a grassy open space will be built nearby.
“We want it to be a usable open space where you can actually go there and throw Frisbees and throw footballs,” Hoffman explained previously.
The project was largely uncontroversial, though council did express concern that the apartments will end up being student housing.
Hoffman said that while Fusco can’t legally restrict who can rent the apartments, they will be high-end units geared toward young professionals and empty-nesters.
“I can’t guarantee. I can’t predict the future,” Hoffman said. “But based on past experience of my client, their market, their product, that is the market we expect.”
Some council members remained skeptical as they recalled being burned by developers of The Retreat at Suburban Plaza and One Easton at Newark Shopping Center. Both projects – which have no connection to College Square or Fusco – were pitched as catering to young professionals, but by the time they were built, they were marketed almost exclusively to University of Delaware students.
“If we all had a dollar for every time we heard ‘We’re marketing to young professionals,’ we’d all be rich and living in Florida,” Councilman Jerry Clifton remarked.
Councilman Jason Lawhorn said that with UD increasing its student population while also closing dorms, only time will tell if the apartments are actually occupied by non-students.
“All the things are in the right place to market to seniors and young professionals,” he said. “I think it is set up for that market, but it will be a good case study to see how many students end up in here”
Council approved the project unanimously, though Councilwoman Jen Wallace voted against one portion – a request for a special-use permit for a drive-thru restaurant.
She said a drive-thru doesn’t fit with the idea of a walkable, bikeable shopping center, but added that overall, the project is a good one.
“This is an attempt to deal with what is currently an eyesore and an underutilized space in our city and to potentially add some vibrancy there,” Wallace said.
Several council members and residents urged Fusco to consider bringing in some entertainment-related businesses.
“We really do need entertainment in Newark,” Stafford resident Melanie Milburn said. “We’ve had two bowling alleys taken away.”