Work begins this week on a $200 million project that aims to bring a mix of retail, office and residential development to Monroe County.
First announced in 2016, The Smithfield Gateway project in Smithfield Township has faced several delays, largely because of the lack of funding for road improvements to Route 209.
However, with infrastructure funding in place, a developer is moving forward with demolition this week to prepare the 120-acre site for development near East Stroudsburg.
Jim DePetris, managing partner for DEPG of Conshohocken, said he has approvals to build 236 upscale apartments, 100,000 square feet of medical office space and 300,000 square feet of retail space. He estimated it would take five years to complete the development.
DePetris is not the first developer to try to develop the site over the years.
“This Route 209 corridor off of Route 80 has been talked about for development over two and a half decades,” DePetris said. “It has all the attributes of becoming a major retail hub.”
The problem, he said, is the Route 209 corridor, which nobody has been able to acquire funding to repair. He described it as being one the worst roads in Northeast Pennsylvania. With only two lanes, traffic often backs up along the busy corridor in a region that attracts about 28 million people each year.
DePetris, whose company owns all 120 acres, will make road improvements to prep the site for development, which would include $4 million to install a road through the site to connect Route 209 and Route 447. The developer would also install two traffic lights, one on each side of the road, and add commercial buildings alongside. In addition, the developer will expand Route 209 from two lanes to five lanes. He plans to start roadwork later this fall.
For a project of this size and scope, it is not uncommon for development to be significantly delayed, according to one economic development professional.
“There are always complex projects that have a considerable amount of infrastructure that needs to be done,” said Charles Leonard, executive director of the Pocono Mountains Economic Development Corp. “This project has a lot of moving parts and we continue to work on it every day. We’ve gotten a lot of help from a lot of different entities.”
The infrastructure improvements will enable the Gateway project to develop, he added.
The project calls for $18 million in infrastructure funding, and Leonard said his organization helped provide some funding toward the project. This included helping the developer acquire $6 million in tax-increment financing, as well as state funding through the Redevelopment Capital Assistance Program and some state gaming funds, Leonard said. The TIF gives access to financing based on the future value of the improvements made to the property by the developer.
DePetris said he also got help securing the state grant funding from Sen. Mario Scavello, (R-Monroe and Northampton counties) and State Rep. Rosemary Brown, (R.)
To make way for the development, DePetris will demolish about 30 structures, including part of the former Mosier dairy farm. Though he will remove these buildings, which he described as blighted, he plans to save the farmhouse and to turn it into a farm-to-table restaurant.
One of the buildings slated for demolition is the Dunkin’ on Route 209, which will begin once the store finds another temporary location. The store will then move back into the new complex once it’s built.
DePetris also plans to add a major national brand hotel to the site, a smaller specialty food market similar to a Trader Joe’s, more restaurants and possibly a movie theater.
Legend Properties, based in Conshohocken, is the leasing company for the development.
Leonard described the Gateway project will address the region’s shortage of apartments.
“We have a very low concentration of apartments,” he said. “Those apartments are really important.”
Many millennials don’t want the responsibility of home ownership, DePetris said. Employers also tell him the region does not have the type of apartments that can retain their employees.
Though he has approvals for 236 apartments, DePetris wants to add more.
Those upscale apartments are drawing both millennials and empty nesters who no longer want a big house and yard, he said.
Both the Lehigh Valley and New York have influenced the Poconos residential market, he added.
“This is really a significant project that’s being proposed in the eastern part of the county,” DePetris said.
He noted that recent developments such as the addition of water parks and resorts in Tannersville and Tobyhanna Township further west have attracted visitors and built business in that part of the region.
“The project provides the impetus to complete some improvements that we feel should have been done when the Marshalls Creek bypass was done,” Leonard said. “The work slated to be done this side closest to Route 80 that never happened.”
Several years ago, workers completed construction on the Marshalls Creek bypass further north.
DEPG also built several retail projects in the region, including Bartonsville Plaza, Bartonsville Square and the newly opened 611 Plaza, DePetris said.