Pattye Benson

Community Matters

O’Neill Properties

Rt. 202: Northbound lanes shifting to Southbound side this weekend

Be careful driving this weekend on Route 202 – the 202 construction project through Tredyffrin is shifting the two northbound lanes to the southbound side.

I attended a Route 202 Project Update meeting given by TMACC (Transportation Management Association of Chester County) held at Penn State/Great Valley. Basically, an update for local corporate and hotel (and Bed & Breakfast) representatives in the area, the meeting was to inform on Stage 3 (final stage) of this section of the 202 project.

Starting Friday night (8 PM) and continuing through the weekend, the two lanes of northbound Rt. 202 will shift to the southbound side. The southbound traffic will remain in its current Stage 2 pattern. It is anticipated that the shifting of lanes will be completed prior to Monday morning rush hour.

With the traffic removed from the northbound lanes, the contractor will replace the existing pavement; excavate median area for construction of a new lane; excavate right shoulder for construction of collector-distributor lane; install drainage; erect sound barrier walls and rebuild the ramps at the PA 29/Swedesford Road interchange.

David Palmer, the Rt. 202 project manager, explained that the sound walls will not be constructed from concrete but rather will be ‘absorptive’ panels – the impression given was that this type of sound walls would greatly reduce the noise for the local homeowners. I asked the height of the walls as prior to this construction, the Swedesford Road section through my section of the township had walls that were only about 3 feet high. If I understood correctly, we should be getting 15-20 ft. high construction walls through this entire section of the 202 project.

In discussing the Stage 3 impacts, it was explained that PennDOT plans to maintain four lanes of traffic at most times during construction and especially during the peak morning and later afternoon drive times with occasional off-peak, overnight and weekend lane restrictions each way. Also we should expect occasional ramp detours and North Valley road will remain narrowed at the Rt. 202 overpass.

The project is on schedule and this final Stage 3 phase will be completed by December 2012. In Spring 2013, the next section of the 202 project will start (where this one ends) and will continue to the Rt. 30 Bypass. Expected completion date on the final section is December 2015.

In other updates from the meeting — It was also reported that things may be back on track for O’Neill’s Uptown Worthington project. Looks like O’Neill and Citizens Bank have reached some kind of an agreement and that Wegmans may finally have some new neighbors. Discussion that the next phase of the Worthington project is to include residential units and possibly movie theater.

Another update: Atwater property (Rt. 29 and Yellow Springs Road) home to the Allstate Insurance Company, is getting a new tenant; a pharmaceutical company from Chadds Ford is relocating to the property by the end of 2012 with 400 employees. Atwater filed a zoning application for a mixed-use development to include townhouses, single-family homes and some retail – the thought was they wanted to model it after the Uptown Worthington project.

Made-for-TV Movie . . . No, It’s Brian O’Neill vs. Citizens Bank

Wegmans and Target opened to much fanfare at Uptown Worthington but the battle rages behind the scenes between the property’s developer Brian O’Neill and Citizens Bank.

This story has all the trappings of a made-for-TV movie drama. The “man-versus-man” plot features a central character (Brian O’Neill) and an opposition character (Citizens Bank) as the primary actors. The central character has a goal and the opposition is going to attempt to stop the central character before he obtains the goal.

The latest chapter in the continuing saga of the mega-million dollar lawsuit and countersuit between O’Neill Properties and Citizen Bank has attorneys for the bank accusing Brian O’Neill of harassment against five of the bank’s top execs. O’Neill counters the accusations; claiming that the bank destroyed evidence and lodges obstruction of justice allegations.

This week Brian O’Neill and Citizens Bank are headed back to court . . . once again, the courtroom becomes the legal playground for attorneys on both sides. As the war wages on between developer and bank, the $700 million Uptown Worthington project on 106 acres sits largely unfinished. Reportedly, O’Neill Properties is feeling the effect of the recession – the payroll has dropped 50%, down from 150 employees to 75 over the last couple of years.

O’Neill’s battle with Citizens Bank is not confined to the Uptown Worthington project. The developer-bank entanglement also includes a 100-acre corporate park in Bensalem and a 400-acre residential development in North Jersey. Much like a high-profile divorce is the split between O’Neill and Citizens. For eight years, they enjoyed a good relationship with the bank offering $180 million in financing to O’Neill Properties. The economic crisis hit . . . the bank wanting to lessen their financial risk pulled out of their deal with O’Neill Properties, which left the developer without a parachute. Rather than sit on the sidelines and accept his fate, Brian O’Neill is fighting back hard and I don’t think Citizens Bank was quite prepared for their formidable opponent!

This would make a great made-for-TV movie if it were not playing out in our own backyard!

My Obsession With Wegmans at Worthington Soon to be Recognized . . . Grand Opening Set for July 18!

After much delay, I am excited to report that the waiting for the opening of the new Wegmans at Worthington will soon be over. Wegmans has scheduled their grand opening for Sunday, July 18, 7 AM. To see the complete announcement from Wegmans, click here. The Wegmans grand opening announcement is creative with a video and a ticking countdown clock — 39 days, 18 hours, 48 min. & 20 sec. as I write this post. Free gifts available if you sign up for a Wegmans card before July 17!

In looking at the floor plan online I noted some unusual marketing — Wegmans lists Timber, Alcove and Conference rooms next to the Market Cafe & Pub as available for meetings. Now isn’t that an out-of-the-box idea for a grocery store — you can use the conference room for your meeting and have beer/wine from the Pub and lunch from Market Cafe. Their Beverage & Beer Center is indicating that they will have 700 imported and regional beers for sale. Their Deli is touting 300 specialty cheeses from all over the world. Wegmans is also offering free WiFi — nothing like keeping you in the store, you know the longer the shopper is in the store, the more likely they are to continue to spend money!

Besides my personal obsession with Wegmans, I am excited to see positive economic growth in our community. It looks like the Worthington Target may also be close to opening; last update I heard was July 2010.

The Mega-Billion Dollar Lawsuits of Brian O'Neill and Citizens Bank Will Not Keep Wegmans Supermarket from Opening!

Like many people I have been watching the progress (or lack there of) of the Uptown Worthington project on Route 29 in Malvern. Back in the fall, Citizens Bank had sued Brian O’Neill and O’Neill Properties for $61 million, claiming that the company had defaulted on bank loans. Last month, Brian O’Neill countersued Citizens Bank for $8 billion in damages ($4 billion in compensatory damages and $4 billion in punitive damages), claiming that the bank wrongly called for loans before they were due and that the bank did not follow through with their end of the agreement with construction financing. With O’Neill and Citizens Bank pointing fingers at each other, I was concerned where that left the project. I feared that Uptown Worthington would just become a very expensive mud hole, and one we could look at from 202 for years to come.

The $540 million Uptown Worthington mixed-town center plan called for 752,500 square feet of lifestyle retail space, 227,960 square feet of office space, 753 residential units and 160,000 square feet of hotel space. The site location of Uptown Worthington is on Route 29, between Route 202 and Route 30 in Malvern. My real fascination with this project, beyond the obvious unfinished appearance of the 100 acre site, was the Wegmans supermarket story. A planned anchor store at the Uptown Worthington center, construction had continued on Wegmans. But after multiple delayed openings, I wondered if the grocery store would remain shuttered; a byproduct of the legal wrangling of O’Neill and Citizens Bank.

Good news. I received what I hope is official news; Wegmans supermarket is nearing completion and is set to open in June! Further good news, Wegmans has decided to model the Worthington location after the Collegeville Wegmans. Yes, our new Wegmans will have ‘The Pub’ inside the supermarket. Of the 75 stores in the Wegmans chain, the Collegeville store was the only one with a supermarket pub. This was a social experiment of sorts, connecting one of life’s most mundane chores of grocery-shopping with something that could go a long way toward blunting its misery: alcohol. I have a husband that hates running out to the grocery store, but that attitude may change with the opening of Wegmans. Wegmans will offer spirits for consumption on the premises and will also sell six-packs of beer for carryout. For the singles in the area, there’s even a chance for romance. Apparently, the pub at Collegeville’s Wegmans is reporting one engagement – with the happy couple toasted with champagne.

The Pub experiment at the Wegmans Collegeville location was intended to fill a gap in the store’s Market Café complex, where shoppers can buy prepared foods either to take out or to eat at nearby tables. The Pub is a full-service restaurant where you have a complete meal and enjoy a drink with the meal. Assuming that our Malvern Wegmans stays with the Collegeville model, domestic 12-oz beers go for $3.75; 15-oz drafts range from $3-4. Wine is $5 a glass. Cocktails – $5.25 to $10. And no tipping allowed! The notion being that you don’t tip the guy at the deli counter for a pound of roast beef. I wonder if Wegmans thinks that if you have a drink or two, you may end of running up that grocery tab. You come in, have a couple of cocktails and may buy all sorts of things you didn’t come in for.

Our new Worthington Wegmans supermarket is advertising that it will be open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The opening of Wegmans is just one more reason to countdown to spring!

The Ball is Back in Brian O’Neill’s Court! Uptown Worthington Developer Sues Citizens Bank for $8 Billion in Damages – You Read it Right, Billions!

If you recall, I have had several posts about Brian O’Neill of O’Neill Properties in regards to his Uptown Worthington project in Malvern (future site of Wegmans). Citizens Bank had secured a $61 million judgment against O’Neill in November for unpaid loans on the project.

Breaking news . . . Mr. O’Neill is taking back the ball to his side of the court. He has filed a lawsuit against Citizens Bank for $8 billion in damages ($4 billion in compensatory damages and $4 billion in punitive damages), claiming that the bank wrongly called for loans before they were due and the bank did not follow through with their end of the agreement with construction financing.

The O’Neill lawsuit alleges that Citizens Bank judgment was “maliciously based upon sham defaults manufactured by the bank in bad faith — as part of a scheme to pressure”. I am guessing that Citizens Bank tried to back O’Neill in to a corner with their demand to repay the loans. O’Neill’s lawsuit points to a couple of major problems with Citizens Bank. First, the bank was demanding repayment on the financing loans before the loans were scheduled to be due; and secondly, Citizens induced O’Neill to amend the initial loan agreements and increase the amount borrowed when they had no intention of doing so.

After Citizens Bank secured its judgment against O’Neill (in essence leaving the Worthington project without promised financing as the lead lender), O’Neill has been challenged in his efforts to find other financing. Without Citizens Bank’s financing, O’Neill has faced great difficulty in restructuring the financing required for the Worthington project. We are acutely aware that the economic climate is far different now than it was in 2002 when Brian O’Neill and O’Neill Properties began this major redevelopment project in Malvern, making this current financial situation all the more difficult for both sides. Because of Citizens Banks actions, O’Neill alleges that he has lost not only tenants but also damages to his company far exceeding the $61 million loan amount. As a result, O’Neill is seeking damages of $8 billion from Citizens Bank.

If you are keeping score, looks like the ball is in O’Neill’s court. Citizens Bank, you are up next . . .

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