Merchantville, Pennsauken Mayors Lay Out Future Visions for Community Developments in 2024


On its sesquicentennial, Merchantville is recruiting businesses and transforming public spaces, while Pennsauken pushes ahead with major municipal projects and recreational amenities.

By Matt Skoufalos | March 12, 2024

Merchantville Pennsauken Path Route 130 crossing. Credit: McCormick Taylor Inc.

Merchantville and Pennsauken officials anticipate work on a number of public amenities in 2024, from green spaces to municipal buildings, as they look to facilitate additional economic development in the near future.

In late February, Mayors Ted Brennan of Merchantville and Marco DiBattista of Pennsauken spoke about the closeness of their communities at the Pennsauken Merchantville Area Chamber of Commerce (PMAC).

“I don’t think there’s ever been a stronger relationship between Merchantville and Pennsauken,” Brennan said.

Both municipalities enter the year with significant infrastructure projects on the docket that offer opportunities for community development, recreation, and access to services.

As Merchantville prepares for its 150th anniversary celebration in May, Brennan extolled its generational transition “from farmland to a downtown destination.” The small business district in the community of 3,800 is hoping to grow around a handful of new, food-based businesses.

Omega’s Restaurant and Taylor Wings welcomed their first customers last year; newcomer Thai Ginger joined them on Centre Street in early 2024. The closure of long-tenured Charlie’s Crepes at the Trellis Plaza on Chapel Avenue will be filled by the anticipated opening of mobile coffee vendor Hallowed Grounds in its former storefront this spring.

Similarly, cannabis dispensary Gynsyng opened its doors in the Centre Street storefront vacated by Rite Aid some years ago; it slots in next to the recently revived Blue Monkey Tavern.

The former PNC Bank in Merchantville circa 2016. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

Across the street, Café Lift proprietors Michael and Jeniphur Pasquarello of Haddonfield are preparing a bar and restaurant concept for the shuttered First National Bank & Trust Company of Merchantville, which has been vacant for 17 years.

Other downtown vacancies are soon to be filled, with the St. Clair CPA Solutions building at 1 West Maple Avenue converting to a bar and kitchen fixture showroom, and a music-based behavioral health facility taking over some of the second-floor office space formerly occupied by the accountancy.

“We’re continuing to try and round out the profile of the businesses in our community,” Brennan said.
Merchantville also hopes to break ground on the redevelopment project at the center of the borough later this year.

After several design iterations, the triangle formed by the intersections of East Park Avenue, East Chestnut Avenue, and North Centre Street will be transformed into a pedestrian walkway element that is “meant to connect the major areas of the downtown,” Brennan said.

“How do we differentiate Merchantville?” the mayor said. “Why is it unique? Why do people want to come here? We want a space where we can host events, and the passive recreation side, the east side of that, is a space do it.”

Funded by a 2016 Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) grant, the redevelopment will create a public green space accessible by the multi-use path that runs along Centre Street, complemented by utility connections for mobile food vendors, an outdoor entertainment space, and public restrooms.

All of this will connect with the former Verizon parking lot, which will be converted into a public parking facility, and incorporate a pedestrian flow that touches The Station Café and Eclipse Brewing. Merchantville hopes to coordinate its construction activity with the Camden-County-led East Park Avenue widening project.

“It will all face Centre Street; that’s the vision,” Brennan said. “We think we’re going to be able to make that come to life. Working with a developer on the passive recreation side there. We hope to be able to do that in concert with all the other improvements going on.”

Map of the Merchantville redevelopment zone in 2016. Credit Ragan Group.

Bringing a community gathering space comes online will enable Merchantville to continue its community programming, like expanding the Market Off-Centre, music festival, Monsterville celebration, and others, including the 150th Anniversary weekend May 19 and 20.

Brennan also has an eye on additional retail recruitment; he’d like the community to add a small grocer or produce market as well as some form of service-oriented entertainment business, like a golf simulator, or other indoor experiential retail.

“We’re working with our property owners now to try to attract some of those types of things,” the mayor said. “At this point, I feel like we’re on the precipice. If we can get one or two of these other businesses in town, we’ll have a business district that will have an appropriate amount of foot traffic and interest; that critical mass.”

In neighboring Pennsauken, the township will focus on “supporting residents with better services,” Mayor Marco DiBattista said, specifically by improving public recreation amenities and updating aging municipal facilities.

The biggest project on the docket, which is already underway, is the $28-million redevelopment project that will upgrade and unify the township municipal building and library. It’s partly funded by $9 million in NJ Library Construction Bond Act funds; the remainder will be handled through municipal bonding.

“When you come and deal with the town, we want you to have a great experience,” Mayor Marco DiBattista said. “This building is going to provide that.”

Pennsauken Municipal Building. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

That work will replace the 60-to-70-year-old municipal building and library, and runs concurrently with the $15-million, wholly grant-funded community center construction project, which will add a 25,000-square-feet, two-story building into the recreation facilities just off Westfield Avenue.

“It’s going to be a true hub; a multi-use area,” the mayor said. “It gives people a better place in that area.”

Just a few months after opening the quarter-mile Cove-to-Bethel trail extension, Pennsauken is also looking to revive another former railway path as a multimodal recreational trail off Chestnut Avenue.

Planned improvements to Tippin’s Pond Park will expand the trail there, add picnic areas for people to dine outdoors, and could include a volleyball court as well. DiBattista views these upgrades as continuing in the vein of other outdoor recreational amenities in the township.

“It’s another place for families to go out and have lunch with their kids, or find a reason to hang out,” he said; “for people to be happy and have stuff to do.”

Similarly, the Pennsauken Country Club is also poised for upgrades to its clubhouse, covered by revenues from the golf course itself. The current deck will be demolished to make way for a four-season room that DiBattista said will enhance the experience for golfers, diners, and their guests.

“What do we have that we can offer people to stay in town and have a great time?” he said. “Come here and eat and have a drink. We’re trying to enhance what that is.”

By the end of the year, DiBattista said Pennsauken hopes to have a clearer picture of a transit-oriented development study that was begun in mid-2023.

Stained glass at the Pennsauken Transit Center Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

Funded by a $100,000 Transportation and Community Development Initiative (TCDI) grant from the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC), the study will explore ways to revitalize the half-mile around the Pennsauken Transit Center on DeRousse Avenue with mixed-use commercial and residential development.

“They’re in the developmental phase,” the mayor said.

“They had a schedule to get this stuff really moving by the end of the year; outdoor dining, maybe townhomes in that area.

“It will be very desirable.”

Beyond those projects, DiBattista said he’d like Pennsauken to recruit additional fine dining businesses; an area in which he feels the local economy is lacking.

“We’ve got more than enough of fast casual; we’d love to see some sit-down dining,” he said.

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