Elizabeth Township Village on the block

| Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012, 3:57 a.m.

No doubt, most people have heard the expression of incredulity, “If you believe that, I've got a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn.”

In Elizabeth Township, that phrase could be tweaked a little to, “We've got a Swiss Alpine Village to sell you,” only municipal officials there aren't kidding.

The struggling commercial center owned and operated by the Elizabeth Township Authority for nearly a decade is about to go on the market. Municipal officials say they are looking for a firm or individual with expertise in real estate to make them a good offer.

“We've been looking to sell it for some time,” said township board of commissioners Vice President Larry Vota regarding a decision made earlier this year by the board to put the property on the market.

Vota said maintaining and attracting businesses to the 15-acre site off Scenery Drive isn't something the township is designed to do. “We no longer have a need for it. We're not in the real estate business in the township.”

Built in the early 1990s, the village is comprised of six buildings fashioned after Swiss chalets. The township authority purchased the village in 2003 for $825,000 in an effort to stop its previous owner from locating an educational and residential center for non-violent juvenile offenders there. The authority succeeded in preventing the controversial center from moving in but has had trouble keeping all the buildings rented.

Tenants include a pizzeria, Chinese restaurant, gun shop, dry cleaner, dog grooming salon, martial arts studio and doctor's office. But units that once housed a daycare center, district court office and insurance agency remain empty.

“The structures are in good shape,” said authority chairman Glenn Schreiber, who was charged earlier this year with evaluating the village's problems and potentials. Schreiber believes someone with expertise in commercial property could fill the empty units and perhaps even add on to the village. Much of the lot is wooded and remains undeveloped. Though some of the terrain is steep, Schreiber said parts of it could be developed for residential apartments.

Elizabeth Township Area EMS is headquartered in the village but owns its offices and garage.

Restaurant operators within the complex say their businesses would get a boost if more surrounding units were occupied.

“There's a lack of reinvestment,” said Jason Dull, who has run Fox's Pizza Den in the village for eight years.

Dull would like to see more office space around him rented and believes the location would be well suited for a beer distributor, but adds that renters will be difficult to attract because much of the facility has a slightly faded appearance.

“It needs to look more current,” said Dull, who is glad the facility is on the market. “It needs somebody to come in here and rejuvenate it.”

Mike Lin, who operates China Fortune Restaurant, would welcome a landlord who is more invested in the property. Lin said he's wanted the authority to install a better sign along the road for the five years. “A lot of people pass by and don't even know we're here.”

The infrastructure needs underscore the township's reasons for wanting to sell, Schreiber said. The marketing process begins on Thursday, he said, when the authority will make information packages available to prospective buyers for the first public offering. Parties interested in the property will have until Dec. 3 to notify the township and tours of the facility are scheduled for Dec. 11.

The deadline for submitting a sealed bid on the village is Jan. 7.

Schreiber said the township is looking to sell the whole parcel at once.

He said the authority considered subdividing and determined doing so could prolong the marketing process, keeping the township in the position of being landlord to some of the properties longer than desired.

The first floor totals 14,000 square feet and the second floor totals 3,000 square feet. Schreiber said the property recently was appraised but those figures are not yet available.

The county's assessed value for the property is $850,700.

Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1966, or eslagle@tribweb.com.

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