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STAFFORD TWP., NJ-Its genesis dates back more than two decades, and its final approval process took three years, but Stafford Park, a 370-acre mixed-use development, is about to become a reality. The Walters Group, the Barnegat-based developer, held its formal groundbreaking this week for the project, with its retail component slated for delivery in the summer of 2008.

“The groundbreaking marks both an ending and a beginning,” says Edward Walters, founder and partner of the company. “The event officially completes the process of working with the New Jersey Pinelands Commission and the township to ensure the positive environmental benefits of the project, while it also launches a project that will bring tremendous benefits to Stafford Township and Ocean County.”

Stafford Park’s site plan calls for 650,000 sf of retail, headed by Target, Costco, Best Buy, Dick’s Sporting Goods and PetSmart. Also part of the plan are 667 housing units, 565 of them age-restricted and 112 affordable; 25,000 sf of office space; and recreational facilities, including a 66,000-sf twin ice skating rink.

The site includes two former landfills, one a 55-acre licensed landfill, the other a 25-acre unlicensed site filled with storm debris. Both sites have been closed since the early 1980s, and Walters has spent an estimated $30 million to remediate the property in preparation for redevelopment, an effort involving extraction of more than one million cubic yards of soil. In terms of actual construction, all of the buildings within Stafford Park will be built to LEED standards.

As reported by GlobeSt.com, Walters got the nod as the site’s redeveloper in 2004, winning out in a competitive bidding process. The project gained approval from the New Jersey Pinelands Commission in July 2006, and site plan approval for the retail component from the township in September of that year. Walters then completed its acquisition of the township-owned site in December.

Besides construction of the retail portion, phase one also includes the relocation and expansion of several county facilities, including a recycling center, county social services offices and an animal shelter. Walters is contributing $2 million toward that relocation, as well as $7 million toward transportation improvements.

Walters has also picked up $62 million in construction financing, provided jointly by Firstrust, a privately owned Conshohocken, PA-based bank, and the Delaware-based Wilmington Trust. The funding package was put together by Mark Duffy, SVP of Firstrust, Steven Weeks, VP of Wilmington Trust and Timothy Regan, CFO and partner of the Walters Group.

“This was an incredibly intricate and complex financial transaction,” Duffy says. “The success of the project hinged on developing creative ways to manage it.”

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