MIDDLETOWN, NJ - Middletown residents living near the proposed Village 35/Circus Liquors Redevelopment project site had the chance to hear from, and ask questions to, a representative from Wegman’s. An expert from the Massa Multimedia Architecture (MMA) architectural firm that’s designing the project was on hand as well. The meeting helped attendees learn more about its different aspects.
The first expert to discuss the project was Richard Hunter, an archeologist from the Hunter Research, Inc. firm. Hunter said his role was to document any evidence of historical artifacts or architecture in order to preserve them for posterity. He found that many of the buildings’ architectural designs were from the 1950’s, but also said that there were no major historical or archeological artifacts in the area. Next came Gabriel Massa, who heads the MMA firm, located in Neptune, who spoke about many architectural features of the proposed redevelopment project’s commercial portion.
The project will include a mix of food & beverage retail, health & wellness facilities, entertainment, groceries, and other retail categories.
“We follow these pillars because we understand the importance of them,” he said. “If you have these things, you’ll be successful. Otherwise, you’ll fail.” said Massa.
Massa also said the project’s design aimed to break new ground in terms of serving as a model for future shopping centers.
“This is an opportunity to set the bar for retail development,” he said. "The buildings in this development will have less height than those in previously built shopping centers, in order to increase its visual appeal for shoppers", Massa said. “These buildings are relatable on a human scale,” he said. “The buildings are not overpowering. You feel comfortable when you walk around them.”
In addition, Massa said the CMX movie theater building that’s part of the project will have more windows than most other buildings of its kind, allowing for a uniquely transparent view of movie theater’s inside from the outside. “Usually, theater like buildings are a solid mass,” he said. Massa also aims to have the Wegman’s portion of the development have an aesthetic appeal similar to that of the Wegman’s Ocean Township store.
“We did the Wegman’s store in Ocean, it’s a beautiful store, but this store certainly exceeds that,” he said. “This is a beautiful building that fits into our expectations, and we’re excited about that.”
For environmental sustainability, the project will include planting trees and vegetation, using LED lighting, and installing cool roofs which help reduce energy consumption.
“We will be going above and beyond in terms of sustainability,” he said.
Lastly, Massa said he aims for the project to be connected and engaged in-depth with the local community. “We’re hoping these are local people (who come set up shop here),” he said. “I enjoy Monmouth County because of the local food – and that is what we’re hoping happens here.” Planning Board member Carl Ratjien asked Massa about how he plans to overcome a potential obstacle to the project’s final approval, which is that the Planning Board is requiring a set of plans on how much space potential tenants in the building connecting the theater and the Wegmans’ can expect to have between them, but that in turn depends on the tenants who actually come in, who often base their decisions on what various planning boards require about building widths. “You have an interesting job,” he said. “You have all these nice drawings, but if you don’t have all the tenants lined up, none of this is meaningful.”
Massa said that he would not be able to know exactly how wide each tenant’s retail facility can be until later in the process. “I would love to be able to say we will have 20 feet of this or 30 feet of that, but I don’t want to do that because what if a tenant wants to be bigger or smaller,” he said.
Middletown resident Gary LaHood asked Massa about whether the roofing of the shopping center buildings will be screened, meaning whether equipment on the roof would be blocked from view, after Planning Board members asked in jest about whether LaHood had received proper notice this time around.
“All things must be screened from viewership,” Massa said.
LaHood then asked about the potential effects of too much parking space from the project.
“There seems to be a tendency that when there’s too much parking space, they take it out and build new buildings,” he said.
Township Planning Dept. Director Sanyogita Chavan said that any such plans must go through a rigorous planning board approval process, just like the current project proposal.
“They can’t just start building randomly,” Chavan said. “They must be in compliance with the redevelopment plan.”
Arthur Pieres, a representative from Wegmans’ corporate headquarters in Rochester, NY, then talked to the Planning Board about the company’s history, explaining that it started out as a family owned business in 1916, is still owned and operated that way, currently has almost 100 stores in 7 states, and is rated by Fortune magazine as one of the best places to work for. He also said his company’s stores work to build extensive roots in the local communities by partnering with local business vendors. “We work with 400 local farmers in seven states,” Pieres said.
Middletown resident Monica Manning asked Pieres whether Wegmans could reduce its size, and if not, then why not.
“We’re always looking at that as a possibility, but we would like to keep it at 130,000 square feet to allow wiggle room if things change,” Pieres said.