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MORRISTOWN, NJ-When Macy’s shut its department store on the Morristown Green in the early 1990s, it set off a chain reaction of adjacent store closings. The Green, a traditional Colonial-style focal point in this historic Morris County city, has thrived in recent years–all except one side, where the vacant Macy’s and the stores it took with it had turned into an eyesore. The building opened in the late 1940s as Bamberger’s and later changed to Macy’s after a merger.

Enter Century 21–not the realty franchise, but a Manhattan-based discount department store that bills itself as “New York’s Best Kept Secret” (the slogan is trademarked). Retailers Al Gindi and son Raymond, operators of the family-owned business, have signed a 20-year lease with building owner Morristown Green LLC for the entire 130,000-sf, four-level asset.

“It’s very positive to have activity at this building, Mayor Jay DeLaney, Jr. said at the press conference announcing the signing. He notes that Century 21 expects to have the store up and running by next March.

The building and that corner of town have been the focal point of some political infighting in recent years. Owner Morristown Green LLC, named after the historic Morristown Green, took over the property two years ago from a holding company, and has twice proposed to tear it down and replace it with a seven-story, 245,000-sf mixed-use property. Twice, the $25.9 million proposal was brought before the city council in search of a five-year tax abatement, and twice it was voted down. The proposal had the support of Mayor DeLaney, but not the majority of the council.

Century 21′s flagship store is located in Lower Manhattan, across from the World Trade Center, and it has branches in Brooklyn and Melville, Long Island. The retailer bills itself as featuring designer brand names at 25% to 75% off designer prices. At the press conference, Al Gindi indicated that he sees Morristown as a satellite of his Lower Manhattan store. “We won’t ‘cannibalize’ our existing stores,” according to Gindi. “We want to surround our flagship with satellite stores.”

Besides the 20-year lease term with renewal options, details of the lease were not released. On the outside, the brick building will remain pretty much intact, although Century 21 will create a new entranceway and provide new street-level landscaping. Renovation costs are estimated at $12-15 million, with Century 21 and Morrison Green each paying about half. The architect is San Francisco-based Gensler, which has its local office in Parsippany, NJ.

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