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To Compete, Malls Get More Than a Facelift

Hoping to win back the sex appeal, the Cherry Hill, Plymouth Meeting and former Echelon Malls are undergoing a real estate version of plastic and bariatric surgery.

The bill: $365 million - most of it borrowed cash at a time when borrowed cash is scarce and retailers are hurting.

The goal: that by 2009 all three bear little resemblance to your mother's mall - or the mall of your own perhaps ill-spent, hair-sprayed youth.

For months, bulldozers have lopped off dead anchor stores and sliced and diced concrete like Legos on a kindergarten floor.

The jewel, and most expensive makeover, is Cherry Hill. That 47-year-old mall is going upscale by adding a Nordstrom department store, the region's second; adding high-end catches such as Apple, BCBG and Armani Exchange; building new restaurants; and replacing its food court with ritzier tenants.

The Echelon Mall has been chopped down and renamed Voorhees Town Center. New homes are planned where half the mall once stood.

Plymouth Meeting is becoming a recreation-and-errands hub in the inescapable shadow of King of Prussia. A knot of mall stores is now a two-story Dave & Buster's arcade, freestanding restaurants including P.F. Chang and Redstone have opened to long lines of workers from nearby offices, and a Whole Foods market attached to a strip of pricey new shops is going up where an Ikea once beckoned.

Though the $165 million being spent between Voorhees and Plymouth Meeting is huge, the $200 million Cherry Hill project is the glitziest and potentially most threatening to the competition.

"This mall is - without a Nordstrom - a powerhouse," said Joseph F. Coradino, who helped hatch the overhaul. "With a Nordstrom, it turns from a powerhouse into a trophy."

"You're taking a very good mall," real estate analyst Nathan Isbee of Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. said, "and you're making it into a great mall."

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