College Square in Newark is set to be transformed from a mostly vacant strip mall to a "vibrant, walkable" mixed-use community with 306 apartments, a coffee shop, pharmacy, restaurants and gathering spaces.
The Newark City Council on Monday unanimously approved plans for the redevelopment project, which developer Fusco Management hopes to have done within the next two years.
"We're proposing a vibrant, walkable, bikeable, active-lifestyle center to take the place of what has become a tired 1980s shopping center," Michael Hoffman, an attorney representing the developer, told the council.
“When you speak about mixed-use, you're really talking about creating that sense of place, that sense of there.”
Fusco Management first announced plans for the project in May 2018 and has been moving through the approval process since then.
Hoffman said the property, which was originally a horse track, hasn't changed much since it was converted into a shopping center in the early 80s.
Fusco doesn't have tenants for the project yet, but he anticipated a coffee shop, pharmacy and a fast-casual restaurant taking up at least some of the retail space.
The apartment complex will be marketed to young professionals and empty nesters, Hoffman said.
Councilor Stu Markman said The Retreat apartment complex on Hamlet Way nearby was also pitched as a project for young professionals but ended up a student housing center. He didn't want to see that repeated.
Hoffman could not guarantee that University of Delaware students wouldn't be interested in leasing the apartments but said it's not the type of tenant they hope to attract.
"This site, we hope, is going to be a destination," he said.
Here's a breakdown of the project and what it will include:
Two apartment buildings with 181 studio/one-bedroom units, 117 two-bedroom units, six three-bedroom units and two guest rooms, for a total of 306 apartments with 1,967 parking spaces.
Within the apartment building, a lounge/concierge area, leasing center, business center, fitness center, media room and an outdoor area with a pool and central green.
Eight- to 10-foot wide sidewalks to promote walkability and bikeability.
About 57,800 square feet of new shopping center buildings.
The demolition of 106,009 square feet of the old shopping center, for a net loss of about 48,209 square feet.
Facelifts at the Acme grocery store and former Kmart building.
Nearly 10 acres of open common open space, which will have walking trails and will create central gathering spaces.
A community green with benches and decorative features
A dog park
Hoffman said the old Kmart building could be leased out or broken up into smaller, leasable retail spaces.
There will be a new central row of buildings with retail.
Part of the shopping center, near the Acme grocery store, is already being updated and Hoffman said those stores will stay put.
The southern part of the site is where most of the work will take place. The apartment buildings will be where the Hair Cuttery and Payless Shoes are currently located.
Hoffman said the WSFS bank will also stay in the shopping center. Pep Boys will be leaving.
Though this project was not as controversial as a seven-story hotel on Main Street, residents did voice some concern over traffic, parking and the possibility of a fast-food restaurant.
They also wanted to know who the tenants would be.
But Fusco Management seemed to allay the council's fears that it would turn into student housing.
"It’s possible that this could end up being student housing," Councilwoman Jennifer Wallace said. "That’s the reality of our town. However, I think the fact that these are predominately one bedroom or two bedrooms, there’s at least the opportunity for other folks to rent these units.”
She also pointed out that the Retreat, which did become student housing, has four- and five-bedroom apartments, which lend themselves to different renters.
Wallace did vote against one part of the proposal — a drive-through restaurant, which requires a special use permit from the city. The rest of the council voted to give Fusco Management the go-ahead on the entire plan.
Councilor Jason Lawhorn said everyone seemed to agree that the project could be good for College Square.
"The term 'eyesore' has been used," he said. "I think people overall are happy to see some sort of development."