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SECAUCUS, NJ-With the retail-laden Meadowlands Xanadu mega-project looming on the horizon (see earlier stories), developer Hartz Mountain Industries has made a major move to beef up its own retail presence in the market, specifically within its four million-sf Harmon Meadow mixed-use development. And who better to bring into the highly competitive mix but the nation’s most powerful retailer–Wal-Mart.

In a major transaction that will place Wal-Mart within the very shadows of Manhattan, the retailer has signed a lease with Hartz that will bring both Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club to Harmon Meadow. Total space involved is just under 329,000 sf, but further details of the transaction were not released. Total cost of the Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores has similarly not been released.

“Harmon Meadow was a breakthrough in suburban real estate development,” says Emanuel Stern, president of Hartz Mountain Industries, which is based here as well. “Now, what is perhaps the most powerful retail brand in the world has chosen it as its entry point in the New York metropolitan area market.”

The Wal-Mart site was originally slated for an office building, but with the office market weak, it and two other parcels within Harmon Meadow are being given over to retail use instead. The remaining two parcels, which are being shopped by Jerry Welkis of Welco Realty, can be built to a total of 173,000 sf, according to Stern.

“The commitment we’ve made to renewing the retail areas will help us re-invent this area, reasserting its importance in the region,” Stern says. “Our longtime tenants, like Modell’s, Foot Locker, Sam Goody and Kohl’s, thrive on the inherent value of this location, and I’m confident that our final sites will attract premium stores in no time.”

Besides the total of 500,000 sf being adding with the three parcels, Hartz is also upgrading the existing on-site retail to gear up for Meadowland Xanadu, a $1.2 billion mixed-use behemoth that Mills Corp. and Mack-Cali Realty plan to build just up the road in East Rutherford, NJ. Besides a general renovation of Harmon Meadow’s retail component, the firm is tearing down and rebuilding an existing Olive Garden restaurant from scratch.

After a spirited and often controversial bidding process, Mills and Mack-Cali won the right, from the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority, to redevelop the Continental Airlines Arena site as Meadowlands Xanadu (see earlier stories). Mills and Mack-Cali are said to be in the final stages of negotiating a formal contract with the NJSEA, and the project still faces legal action from one of the losing bidders, namely Hartz Mountain Industries.

Construction on the Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club spaces will start immediately, targeting a summer of 2004 completion, according to Stern.

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