Creative lease-up by Old Bridge-based retail real estate brokerage includes space consolidation, tenant relocation–and pounding the pavement to find vibrant new operators.

Dover Park Plaza in Yardville is 100 percent leased and repositioned for the eventual V-shaped recovery thanks to a creative re-tenanting effort by R.J. Brunelli & Co., LLC.

After acquiring the 58,000-square-foot shopping center in a tax-deferred 1031 exchange in 2018, new landlord Dover Park Plaza LLC hired the Old Bridge-based retail real estate brokerage to revamp the tenant mix at the decades-old property in Mercer County. At that time, the center, located at 1-23 Sunnybrea Blvd., was about 75 percent leased, said R.J. Brunelli Sales Associate Peter Miller, who spearheaded the leasing effort in his role as the property’s Project Manager.

In addition to longstanding operators such as CVS Health, La Forchetta Italian pizzeria, Asian restaurant Sun Lok Gardens and several service-based businesses that have been at the property over 30 years, the mix now includes a new anchor: 25,067-square-foot Jersey Strong. “To optimize the location for this statewide fitness chain, we worked with the landlord to reconfigure and combine several narrow, deep, less functional spaces with a former dollar store that served as the centerpiece for the new gym,” Miller said. Those moves included the relocation of Sun Lok Gardens to another space in the center.

In addition, R.J. Brunelli helped win municipal approval for the construction of a 3,500-square-foot mezzanine within the gym to further improve the location for Jersey Strong, Miller noted. “It will be a great new place for yoga, Pilates and other workouts.”

A popular fitness center in New Jersey for 30 years, Jersey Strong took interest in Dover Park Plaza after R.J. Brunelli pointed out that Yardville is a solid fit for the chain’s target demographics. “Yardville is an all-American community, with a lot of American flags and motorcycles and a huge emphasis on athletics,” Miller said.

Robert Kwiatkowski, R.J. Brunelli VP-Tenant Representation, represented Jersey Strong in the firm’s capacity as exclusive tenant representative for the chain throughout New Jersey. President and Principal Danielle Brunelli served as listing agent on the transaction.

Another addition to the center signed by the brokerage firm: Mama Dudes, a farm-to-table concept that started as a popular food truck business and will open its first brick-and-mortar location in 1,758 square feet.

“We pounded the pavement to find Andrew Dudich—a talented, ambitious 26-year-old chef fresh out of culinary school whose food truck business has been a huge local success,” Miller said. “His father was always known as ‘Dude,’ so people always referred to his mom, who lived in Yardville, as ‘Mama Dude.'”

Miller and the new landlord were impressed with Dudich’s story, talent and drive. “While Andrew was finishing up his culinary studies at Johnson & Wales University, his mom—a chef—passed away from cancer,” Miller said. “Andrew finished school and followed in her footsteps. His farm-to-table food truck business took off and quickly expanded to two vehicles, which will continue to operate. We think he’ll be a really solid addition that will especially appeal to Jersey Strong’s clientele.”

Both Jersey Strong and Mama Dudes are under construction and likely to open later this year, Miller said.

Located in the heart of Yardville at the intersection of Sunnybrae Blvd. and South Broad St., Dover Park Plaza was a true community center back in the 1980s, with an Acme supermarket, a bank, a postal service branch and other daily needs tenants, Miller noted. However, the center gradually lost relevance and suffered plummeting foot traffic and multiple store closures over the years.

Within a three-mile radius, the property serves a market of 56,635 residents with an average household income of $100,997; within five miles, Dover Park Plaza serves 179,354 residents with an average income of $96,873. Additionally, daytime population is 22,488 and 84,438 within the respective rings. The site is also exposed to a total of nearly 25,000 cars each day on South Broad St. and Sunnybrae Blvd.

The new landlord’s reinvestments in Dover Park Plaza have been critical to the success of the lease-up effort, Miller said. “In a 1031 exchange transaction, you sell one property and buy another one at the same time,” he explained. “So long as you reinvest the proceeds of that sale into the new asset, you get substantial tax-deferment benefits. With our help, the new landlord was able to put the property on a better long-term footing. We’re confident that Dover Park Plaza will drive even stronger traffic and sales when the current crisis passes.”