HAZLET – Baron’s Corner Plaza, a vintage shopping center at the corner of Union Avenue and Middle Road housing several popular local businesses, was sold on Feb. 14 for $1.775 million.
The new owner, Jeff Potter of Middletown, has plans to revitalize the highly visible strip mall by giving it a facelift, improving the traffic flow, repaving the parking lot and attracting new office tenants to the mostly vacant second floor.
“Our plan is to renovate the center with signage and facades,” said Potter, a CPA by trade with offices in Staten Island and Red Bank. “We’re going to put some money into it to make it nice. We’re trying to make it a nicer center for everyone – the tenants and the customers.” He added, “I can’t make money if my tenants don’t make money.”
Current leaseholders will keep operating under their current 3-5 year contracts without disruption, said Potter. That includes some of Hazlet’s favorite culinary stops, like Romeo’s Pizza, Gem’s House of Bagels, Great Wall Chinese restaurant.
Infinity Health & Fitness will no longer host workouts at the plaza. They have moved to Fountain Ridge, 1706 Route 35 in Middletown. Also, Supreme Team Barber Shop on the second floor will not be staying on, according to Potter. Ralph’s Famous Italian Ice is building its own retail store, with a second tenant, next door.
Baron’s Corner Plaza was built in the 1964 by Francis Baron, and was once home to Raritan Meats butcher shop and a sweet shop. It was expanded upon with a two-floor addition and is 13,102 square feet.
Over the years, the center has lost a lot of its shine. But its new owner believes the center he purchased from Baron’s son, Frank Baron of Castle Brook Properties, is a diamond in the rough.
“I guess you can say it needs a little tender loving care,” acknowledged Potter. He is working with Hazlet Township to obtain construction permits for improvements.
The first priority is a new roof, then finishing off the office spaces on the second floor and adding two more additional restrooms. A glassy façade will brighten the offices with more natural light.
When done, there will be seven storefronts downstairs and seven office spaces upstairs. The upstairs offices will be between 400 and 1900 square feet, priced at $21 per square foot, including electric. “We get a lot of calls for tenant prospects for small spaces,” said Charles Frank of Brothers Commercial Realty in Red Bank, who connected Baron with Jeff Potter. He is the exclusive leasing agent.
“I think it’s going to be good for everybody, the tenants and the customers. Jeff is giving it a good look, cleaning it up and will make it look nice to be more appealing,” said Frank.
Kenneth O’Brien, the agency owner of Farmer’s Insurance office, is pleased. “I am excited by the fact it’s going to be a brand new shopping center and it’s not going to be an eyesore. It should attract new attention and serve the community at large,” he said.
As it is now, the parking lot leaves a lot to be desired, he added. “It’s like the Autobahn on Friday and Saturday nights. There’s people coming from all different directions,” he said.
Though he enjoys a good amount of walk-in business, O’Brien plans to move upstairs to the upper floor because he thinks he’ll enjoy even greater visibility. “I think when we go up, the actual sign itself will be above the store, so I think that will even enhance to some extent – I hope. It remains to be seen,” he shrugged.
One thing that won’t change is the name. It will continue to be called Baron’s Corner Plaza, the new owner said. “This is a name that everyone knows,” said Potter.