Olga's Diner in Evesham - long a landmark for Shore-bound motorists and home to some of South Jersey's most popular cheesecake, but in recent years a vacant eyesore at the former Marlton Circle - finally appears headed for the wrecking ball.
A North Jersey property developer has applied to the township to build on the site of what a critic once called "the queen of South Jersey diners."
If the proposal is approved, the principal tenant would be Reproductive Medicine Associates of New Jersey, a chain of fertility clinics, which would occupy two of the floors of a glass-fronted, three-story office building near Routes 70 and 73.
Architectural features of the proposed building include a sweeping curve along the top two floors of its western side, and a three-story illuminated rectangle of moss and other living greens facing north.
Township officials on Monday hailed the proposed project, in planning for more than a year, as offering welcome relief from a crumbling building that had become an embarrassment to Burlington County's largest municipality.
"I think it's really exciting. I love it," said Nancy Jamanow, Evesham's director of community development. She said construction of the new building would likely start in the spring if it wins all of its permits this year.
Olga's, built in 1959 by John Stavros, a Greek immigrant who named it for his mother, closed its stainless steel doors in 2008 after years of declining business and financial difficulties.
Stavros, who had put it up for sale in 2005, frequently complained that he lost business after the state announced plans to convert the dangerous Marlton Circle to an overpass-underpass design in 2002.
Work began April 8, 2009, and the former circle - which carried 90,000 vehicles a day - was officially decommissioned in March 2011.
Today, the red script letters spelling out "Olga's Diner" across the roof are partly collapsed, and tall weeds sprout from the crumbling parking lot. Vandals have stripped much of the diner's interior.
"If somebody told me when I became mayor that Olga's would still be sitting here 10 years later, I would have said, 'You're crazy,' " Evesham Mayor Randy Brown said Monday.
"It's been my number-one frustration," said Brown, who called Olga's the "poster child" of the township's ambitious redevelopment plan to rid itself of vacant or blighted properties.
Reproductive Medicine Associates, based in Basking Ridge, N.J., did not return a call for comment Monday.
If approved, the Marlton office would be its ninth in the state. The company's website says its services include in-vitro fertilization, single embryo transfer, and intrauterine insemination.
The developer of the site is Genesis Property Management, also of Basking Ridge. Jamanow said Genesis acquired the Olga's site in 2014 from a firm that had acquired it several years after Stavros shuttered it.
A Sleepy's mattress store, a chiropractic office, and Estia Taverna, a Mediterranean-style seafood restaurant, also share the tract where Olga's sits. The construction project does not call for their removal, according to Jamanow.
Despite the visual prominence of the new medical building, Brown said the true "centerpiece" of the township's redevelopment project will sit about a mile east on Route 70, where developers are creating Renaissance Square, a five-building, 338-unit apartment complex that will include 12,600 square feet of retail space, a 2,100-square-foot coffee shop, and the rehabilitation of 84,000 square feet of existing commercial space.
The owner of that site, RD Management of New York, has projected the Renaissance project will cost between $70 million and $100 million.
Brown said he expects that Renaissance and four other redevelopment projects underway in the township will generate nearly 600 residential units, with many in walking distance of downtown Marlton.
Jamanow said that as a redevelopment project, the medical office building will be entitled to long-term tax relief, but that the Township Council has not determined what that relief should be.
Kristen Murray, manager of Estia, said she was not aware of the plans for the medical office building, but predicted "it should be great for us" in terms of business.
"Right now, when you drive by," she said of the Olga's site, "there's nothing there."