Muhlenberg board names 'TIF team' for Fairgrounds project

 

Redevelopment of the Fairgrounds Square Mall in Muhlenberg Township won't be happening any time soon, according to information provided at Monday night's meeting of the Muhlenberg Township commissioners.

Despite a letter from Atlanta-based Hull Property Group LLC - owners of the approximately 50-acre property - stating that without tax increment financing (TIF), the group will maintain but not redevelop the property, the board stands united in its decision to deny the TIF, according to Michael Malinowski, the board's president.

Malinowski said the letter makes it clear that Hull "didn't get what they wanted, so they're not going to do anything to the property."

"Fairgrounds Square Mall, LLC, accepts your decision and will continue to maintain the Fairgrounds Square Mall in its current configuration in the hopes of eventually attracting a redevelopment opportunity which satisfies the requirements of your respective boards," John Mulherin, Hull's vice president of government relations, wrote in the May 14 letter to Malinowski and Joseph Macharola, superintendent of the Muhlenberg School District.

Mulherin added that it is difficult to imagine a significant national retailer wanting to move into the mall and that its current state deters redevelopment opportunities. He also wrote that several viable businesses remain on the property and that work will soon begin on a new roof for the mall.

Hull closed the mall in April 2018 after revealing plans to demolish much of the existing building and replace it with green space and possibly a handful of retail stores, a hotel, and another restaurant. Boscov's, Burlington Coat Factory and the movie theater would remain open.

Commissioner Derek Lupia described the redevelopment plans provided by Hull as vague. He said the group wanted the township to commit to something for 20 years on a promise with nothing solid. He called it silly and frustrating.

"We're basically being held hostage in order for them to find the funding to knock down the mall," Commissioner Kevin S. Lerch said.

"It's been nothing but hollow promises," Commissioner John Imhoff said. "We're not going to allow them to use your money to rehab that piece of property."

The board showed recent pictures of the property with a deteriorating parking lot and exterior of the building. Malinowski said the codes department is doing what it can legally to ensure the property is safe for residents and tenants.

"The Hull Group just hasn't lived up to what we believe are their obligations to be a good business partner for our township," Malinowski said, "hence the hesitation to authorize the TIF when we already have a LERTA (Local Economic Revitalization Tax Act District), which is a different tax method to give businesses the ability to develop the property."

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