FLEMINGTON, NJ - A presentation at the recent borough council meeting about the 2020 Flemington Reassessment Results by borough tax assessor Ed Kerwin dovetailed with a proposal by Mayor Betsy Driver to form a Liberty Village Redevelopment Plan Ad Hoc Committee.

Although ratables in the borough increased by about 1 percent since 2019, there have been a number of property value changes that kept the number low.

In 2018, Liberty Village was valued at $5.8 million. Then, in 2019, the Simon Group sold the property to the Namdar Realty Group, of Great Neck, NY, for $2.7 million.

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“I knew they would appeal,” Kerwin said, “so I negotiated an assessed value of $3.2 million.”

In its heyday, Liberty Village, the nation’s oldest outlet center, was a shopping mecca, drawing in thousands of visitors from Hunterdon County and beyond.  Since then, online shopping has hurt retailers across the country, but, as Kerwin explained, something else happened to Liberty Village, causing dozens of vacancies.   

He said that when the Simon Group, owner of numerous malls including Quaker Bridge Mall in Lawrenceville and Rockaway Townsquare, negotiated mall leases, it included requiring those retailers to open an outlet in Liberty Village. Since the sale to Namdar, that source of business has dried up and the property has continued to decline, with no end in sight.

Then, as Driver described it, she received a telephone call “out of the blue” from an executive with Namdar. The mayor said the caller explained the company purchased the 162,000-square-foot property “pretty much sight unseen,” and with no real purpose or plan of what to do with it.

Shortly thereafter the call from Namdar, Driver received an email from Mason Asset Management, which manages the Namdar properties. It said that they are working on creating a redevelopment plan for the property.

That’s what prompted Driver to suggest establishing a borough-formed committee to work on the redevelopment plan.

Namdar is a commercial real estate investment firm that owns properties from Maine to Oregon and in more than 30 states in between.  It owns about 55 shopping malls, including the Phillipsburg Mall, plus numerous office and medical buildings, and mixed use and residential properties.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, resident Lois Stewart read a list of the most desirable amenities named by homeowners. One of the top items was a grocery store.

Driver said a grocery store was among the suggestions she made to the representative from Namdar, along with a multiplex movie theater. Stewart also said a senior citizen facility would be an asset to the community.

In the end, the council unanimously passed a resolution establishing the ad hoc committee.

Driver said she will be on the committee along with a council member, a resident and a representative of the Flemington Community Partnership.

The names of the committee members will be announced at the next council meeting on March 9.