For over 60 years, Essex Green in West Orange has been one of the largest shopping centers in Essex County. While in the past, this plaza along Prospect Avenue near Interstate 280 contained locations of Barnes & Noble, Stern’s, and Arnold Constable, shoppers today will find businesses like Macy’s Backstage, a ShopRite supermarket, and an AMC Dine-In movie theater alongside some empty storefronts. Now, significant upgrades could be in store for this major shopping complex.
A recent listing from Ripco Real Estate features renderings that indicate that Essex Green could be completely redesigned. While the movie theater would remain, plenty of changes are planned for the facade of the complex that could make it look more like a town center than a strip mall.
Not only do the renderings show plans for new signage and new businesses at the existing part of the complex, but a new building with five retail spaces could also be constructed near Rooney Circle in what is currently an outer portion of the parking lot. The listing from Ripco shows that the plaza’s Panera Bread location would relocate to a 4,400-square-foot space in this new structure, which is being referred to as Building G. The 6,000-square-foot space currently occupied by Panera is listed in the leasing plan as being available as are the spaces that contain Sears Outlet and Petco.
These redevelopment plans have been in the works for over two years and have not been without controversy. In the time since an affiliate of Clarion Partners bought Essex Green for nearly $98 million in 2016, the site has been designated by the Township of West Orange as an area in need of redevelopment. A report posted by the Township highlighted changes in the retail industry, describing the “awkwardly laid out” size and design of many of the complex’s retail units as “outdated by today’s retail standards.”
“Despite the shopping center’s key location within the Township and along a busy thoroughfare, it cannot compete with modern regional shopping centers that are more attractive to today’s retail tenants,” the report stated, adding that there was a 23 percent vacancy rate as of October 2017.
Built at the site of a golf course 15 years before the Livingston Mall and just a few years before The Mall at Short Hills, Essex Green was among the first major suburban shopping complexes in Essex County. Prior to the development of these kinds of suburban plazas, Downtown Newark was the preeminent place to shop in the county, though many businesses began leaving the city for suburbia in the mid-20th century.