Developers Break Ground on Madison Farms
Imagine leaving your luxury apartment and walking to a restaurant for dinner.
On your way there, you window shop while passing a series of stores. On your walk home, you stop at a grocery store to pick up dessert, and maybe a six-pack of beer.
Need a late-night jog? There are trails in your neighborhood. Have kids? There’s park space, too.
This is the pitch developers of Madison Farms hope lures tenants to the Lehigh Valley’s latest attempt at creating an attractive urban space. But unlike plans for revitalizing downtown Allentown or Bethlehem, this project is different.
It’s on 100 acres of farmland in Bethlehem Township.
KRE Group and the Silverman Group, two of New Jersey’s largest privately held real estate companies, broke ground on the development Wednesday, along with representatives from ShopRite, which will anchor the retail space.
Madison Farms, between the Wagner Farms housing development and Lehigh Valley Industrial Park VI, is the latest incarnation of a long-planned development once called the Field of Dreams.
When the mini-city inside a suburb is completed, it will feature 566 apartments, 271 single-family or town homes, 140,000 square feet in retail space and 35 acres of open space, including ponds, gazebos and neighborhood parks.
The ShopRite will have its own cafe and there are plans to secure a license to sell take-out beer.
“I think the amenities that we are going to build here are going to be really attractive to tenants of a diverse age range and lifestyle, both with children and without,” said Jonathan Kushner, president of KRE Group.
Madison Farms is following a national trend toward what’s a called a “walkable urban development,” said Christopher B. Leinberger, a downtown revitalization expert with the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.
The developments are particularly popular with baby boomers looking to downsize and people in their 20s and early 30s. But Madison Farms shouldn’t be considered direct competition to plans to revitalize downtown Allentown with a hockey arena and surrounding businesses and apartments, Leinberger said.
“I’d liken it to a baseball team,” Leinberger said. “Downtown Allentown could be the pitcher as it redevelops itself. But this project could be the third base. Yes, there will be an occasional pop-up ball that the pitcher and the third baseman might go fight after, but generally speaking the third baseman has a job to do and that pitcher has a job to do and they are doing pretty much different jobs.”
The challenge with a greenfield project like Madison Farms is that there’s no infrastructure in place. The developers have to spend significant capital before securing tenants, Leinberger said.
Because of that, Madison Farms needs to entice residents from the moment it opens, he said.
“What you’re ultimately selling is the ability to get to a lot of different coffee shops and restaurants and walk from your home to these places right away,” Leinberger said. “You can’t grab a bunch of signs that say coming soon.”
ShopRite and the surrounding retail space is expected to open in early 2015, with half of the apartments to follow later that year, Kushner said. Madison Farms is a calculated risk, he said.
“We take a lot of time studying the demographics, studying what we think the community is going to want,” he said.
The area’s density, demographics, access to highways and its public school system are all indicators the tenants will come, Kushner said.
KRE previously developed Liberty Park, a 133-unit apartment complex in Allentown, and collaborated with the Silverman Group on Parkland View, a 378-unit apartment community in Upper Macungie Township. But neither has the retail element.
Madison Farms is a scaled-down version of the Field of Dreams, a development planned by the property’s former owner, Mark Wagner.
Wagner envisioned building a baseball field, six-story hotel and three-story office building and 852 homes on the land his family used to farm. But those plans never came to fruition, despite preliminary approval from Bethlehem Township in 2007.
Plans for Madison Farms prompted some residents to sign a petition opposing the apartment buildings and even file legal challenges to the township’s approval.
On Wednesday, about a decade after the Field of Dreams was introduced, township officials finally saw a groundbreaking. Paul Weiss, president of the township Board of Commissioners, credited the township staff for helping guide the vision for the property.
“I think it’s going to be a very exciting development,” Weiss said.
ShopRite expects to create 300 jobs. The development is projected to generate hundreds of construction jobs in Bethlehem Township.
The new mixed-use development in Bethlehem Township will have:
• 566 apartments
• 271 single-family or town homes
• 140,000 square feet of retail space, anchored by ShopRite
• 35 acres of open space, including ponds, gazebos and neighborhood parks.