The new Di Bruno Bros. store at the renovated Strafford Shopping Center
Strafford Shopping Center is ready for its second act thanks to a multimillion-dollar renovation overseen by Equity Retail Brokers. But getting there required overcoming one challenge after another — from construction snags and regulatory roadblocks to the chaos of Covid-19.
Built in the late 1950s on W. Lancaster Ave. in Wayne, Pennsylvania, the 30,000-square-foot retail property had never undergone a major renovation in its history (for the backstory, see our last post). Strafford also needed a popular, larger-format tenant—a change that Ken McEvoy, a Principal at Equity Retail Brokers, knew would kick the center into a higher gear. He manages and leases Strafford on behalf of the owners.
In 2018, McEvoy helped advise the owners on the benefits of reinvesting in the asset in a major way. Shortly thereafter, he took charge of the day-to-day responsibilities related to the renovation.
Drive by the center on a Friday night and the results are unmistakable. The final coat of paint went on this past May. “More than likely, you’ll see the parking lot packed with customers of Di Bruno Bros., the gourmet Italian marketplace that opened in March 2021 in the building we renovated and largely reconstructed,” says David Goodman, a Principal at Equity Retail Brokers. “The center is fully leased, with brand-new facades for its lineup of retail, restaurant, and service tenants. We’re extremely proud of the results.”
And that’s especially true, Goodman adds, when you consider some of the obstacles that arose along the way.
Collaborating with the Township
One way to understand McEvoy’s role is to imagine yourself renovating three or four residential homes all at once—and all the paperwork, phone calls, emails, texts, site visits, and small and large decisions required. In spearheading the project, the veteran real estate professional worked directly with Di Bruno Bros. and the center’s owners and representatives, as well as lenders, utilities, GCs, architects/engineers, government officials, and existing tenants.
“Initially, the vision was to tear down a substantial portion of the building and rebuild it from scratch as a two-story structure, which would give Di Bruno Bros.’ about 6,400 square feet of space,” McEvoy noted. “But after their architects did some of the layouts, they realized they would need more square footage than that.” The Equity Retail Brokers team delivered that space by relocating a dry cleaner to secure an additional 1,600 square feet — just enough for the new anchor store. “All of the spaces at Strafford were spoken for,” McEvoy noted, “so we actually relocated that tenant to an offsite location.”
The next challenge came when officials from Radnor Township notified McEvoy and the team that tearing the building down outright would require bringing it up to current compliance standards, such as new stormwater management and greenspace regulations, that had been passed over the decades. “Strafford was grandfathered in,” McEvoy explained. “But if you were to tear that building down, you would be subject to those rules, some which you literally couldn’t comply with, like setbacks from property lines.”
The solution was to rebuild portions of the building in place. That’s when new obstacles arose — or rather, were uncovered.
Digging into the Past
The grade of a shopping center is no small matter. It can affect sightlines, ease of ingress/egress, ADA compliance, and much more. In spearheading the renovation, McEvoy knew that Strafford’s “unique” grade — the property was built on a hill, with almost two feet of difference between the front and back of the building to be renovated — could create big challenges.
As contractors began demolishing parts of the building (taking care to leave exterior portions per the rules on build-in-place projects), different surprises emerged. “When a building is 60 years old, you’re going to find some issues,” McEvoy said, “and we had plenty to work through.”
To facilitate drainage, floors today typically have rock underneath the concrete slab. “Our contractors picked up the floor and found nothing but dirt, so we had to excavate more than we expected,” McEvoy said. “Then, when you remove the concrete, you see how the steel has deteriorated over 60-plus years. What we found was that, here and there, it was worn away or even on the precipice of failing; we had to rework the steel frame of the entire building.”
The cinderblocks used when the center was built ended up being half the expected size, which meant they had to be replaced. “The deeper you demo, the more you find that you have to address,” McEvoy said. “And of course, you’ve got to redo all the mechanicals, like the plumbing and the HVAC. You rip everything out, go back to scratch and start all over again.”
Dealing with Covid
The team was making good progress in March 2020 when Covid-19 threw the timetable into question.
“Fortunately, Di Bruno Bros. had faith in what we were doing and in the soundness of the location and the community,” McEvoy said. “They stayed committed to the project as we dealt with the shutdowns, construction delays, working from home, and everything else the pandemic brought.”
Those delays also affected another component of the project — installing brand-new facades to upgrade, modernize, and visually tie together the entire center. “The existing tenants showed a lot of patience and commitment as well through that process,” McEvoy said.
Committed to Client Value
By overseeing the consolidation of five tenant spaces and the renovation of the decades-old building, Equity Retail Brokers gave Di Bruno Bros.’ the showcase it needed. This change, along with visual, construction, and ADA upgrades throughout the property, has restored Strafford to its prior place of prominence.
“Our renovation project spurred a surge in additional traffic and interest from new tenants,” Goodman said. “In commercial real estate, it’s easy to talk about how committed you are to building value for your clients. What’s more important is to show that commitment by going above and beyond. Strafford is now a stronger contender to attract higher-end retailers, and command higher rents, for years to come.”
Laird Bevitz, the owners’ Managing Partner and, like McEvoy, a strong advocate for the project, expressed satisfaction with the results. “Myself and my fellow partners are extremely proud of the upgrades to the shopping center and feel it is an asset to the Radnor Township community.”
Whether it’s leasing, sales, financing, or management, Equity Retail Brokers can help you increase the value of your retail assets. Please contact us for more information.