New apartment building planned for Bala Cynwyd Lord and Taylor site

By Richard Ilgenfritz rilgenfritz@21st-centurymedia.com

LOWER MERION — With the announced closing of the Lord and Taylor store in the Bala Cynwyd Shopping Center, there’s about to be a large empty building on the site.

And what does one do with space in Lower Merion?

You build apartments, of course. Or, more specifically, you build apartments, add retail to the first floor and call it a mixed-use building.

And that’s about to happen once again.

But for Federal Realty Investment Trust, the owners of the shopping center, the project will be much more than a single mixed-use building. Over time, Federal Realty plans on redeveloping the entire end of the shopping center along Belmont Avenue.

During a recent public meeting about the site, John Tschiderer, a senior vice president for Federal Realty, said, “The Bala Cynwyd [shopping center] seems to be at a moment in time where the opportunity [exists] to invest in a very significant way, and we’re excited about it.”

So what else is planned for the site?

One simple way to put it; there’s too much retail out there.

Jeremy Fogel, who outlined the plans for Federal Realty, said they’ve looked at the retail market, and the only options available would be discount-type stores. Those stores, he described, would lower the bar for the shopping center.

“The retail that is likely to be available … doesn’t meet the needs of ownership,” Fogel said.

Fogel said one thing they’ve noticed is that there has been an overbuilding of retail.

“We believe it’s actually beneficial to de-retail,” he said. “To take some of the retail square footage out of the market and replace it with other usage.”

According to Fogel, they’ve tagged the area, which includes the Lord and Taylor store, and the space next to Belmont Avenue – including the Chili’s Bar and Grill for redevelopment.

The area along Belmont Avenue has been divided into three development blocks.

The Lord and Taylor block would be developed first. Development of the other two blocks will come later.

Streets will also be added at the center of the three development blocks. Named East, West, North, and South drives, they would meet at an intersection in the middle. Along the streets, the idea is to create a place designed to feel like a small-town main street.

“You feel as though when you walk down East and West drive like it’s a Main Street that has pedestrian level architecture, pedestrian level experiences, it gives you places that you can eat food if you are at a restaurant or just hang out, read a book, there are public places, and there are places that are exclusive to the use,” he said.

Details on the new apartment building are still early, but under the general plans outlined for the meeting, the existing Lord and Taylor building would be demolished and replaced with a six-story, 230-unit mixed-use building. There would also be 257 parking spaces in a structured lot.

Earlier this year, it was announced that Lord and Taylor would be filing for bankruptcy and closing all 38 stores nationwide. The store in Bala Cynwyd opened in 1955.

Although the 20-acre Bala Cynwyd Shopping Center site was developed as a shopping center in the 1950s, its transition to include apartments has already begun. Earlier this year, the 87-unit apartment building called the Delwyn opened at the other end of the same shopping center.

The Delwyn is one of several recently built apartment buildings in the Bala Cynwyd area that has been built over the last five years. Other projects in the area include The Kelly near Union and Bala avenues, the Royal Athena on Righters Ferry Road, 335 Bala on Righters Ferry Road and 9 Presidential Blvd. Other apartment building projects are also in the development phase.

The concept of mixed-use development has been discussed in Lower Merion for at least the past couple of decades. Those talks eventually led to the MUST or Mixed-use Special Transit Ordinance, designed to encourage development around train stations.

The next meeting for the project is scheduled for Jan. 11, when the Lower Merion Planning Commission will review the conditional use requests.