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(Brianne Harrison is associate editor of Real Estate New Jersey and part of a three-person team now covering the Philadelphia market.)

EXETER, PA-Exeter JV Associates, the development partnership of Ironwood Property Group and the Goldenberg Group, closed on the purchase of the 50-acre site that will house the planned Exeter Commons shopping center. The developers plan to break ground on the $100-million plus project by next week and hope to open during the summer of 2009.

Exeter Commons is set to be the largest shopping center in the township. Notwithstanding economic and retail woes, leasing agent Glenn Marvin, a principal with Metro Commercial Real Estate, has signed Target, Lowe’s and a Giant supermarket as anchors for the project.

“The economic downturn hasn’t had an effect” on leasing, according to Jeremy Fogel, president of Ironwood Property Group. “The project has been a more than three-year effort. The anchor tenants have been in the process for so long that we might have been lucky enough to be past the point where they would have considered pulling back on a deal like this based on the economy. This particular project happens to be in a great submarket with great co-anchors”

Lowe’s will take the largest lease, at 171,000 sf, followed by Target with 133,000 sf and Giant with 85,000 sf. The completed shopping center will boast half a million sf. Most of the remaining space has been claimed by companies such as Circuit City, PetCo, Famous Footwear, Wachovia Bank, Red Robin and Chick-Fil-A.

The area has seen enormous growth recently—census data reports a 13% population increase between 2000 and 2004. Despite this, traffic problems kept many major retailers out of the Exeter area.

“The site is at the intersection of Business Route 422 and Bypass Route 422, and there was a major traffic backup there from people merging and the huge volume of cars traveling through the area,” Fogel explains to GlobeSt.com. “We worked with Traffic Planning and Design, an engineering firm, and created a series of improvements that, when implemented, will reduce traffic.”

One of the changes will be to add a traffic signal to the point where the bypass and Business Route 422 merge, widening the roadway to the east and creating a new bypass so drivers can avoid the area altogether. The improvements are estimated to cost about $18 million. Slightly more than a third of that cost will be borne by the developers. The remainder is being provided through Tax Increment Financing and through a grant from the State’s Infrastructure and Facilities Improvement Program.

The township planning commission had originally objected to the planned development due to concern about storm water drainage, erosion and pedestrian safety on Route 422. Exeter JV addressed the township’s concerns and the planning commission voted 6 to 1 to approve the project.

“This area is really a hole in the donut for a lot of retailers,” Fogel says. “The Berks County market is an area where a lot of the anchor stores have been looking to locate. Because of the traffic problems, this particular target is one they’ve looked at, but haven’t been able to locate in. Now, Target, Lowe’s and Giant all have successful stores throughout the Berks County region. These additional stores will complement that chain.”

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