By Sarah Trefethen
New development and revitalization alike are opening up new housing opportunities in transportation-rich towns in New Jersey.
“At the end of the day, people have to choose: do they live in the best location and pay through the nose, or do they have a little more space in a quality building with a great living environment,” said Adam Mermelstein, principal of TreeTop Development.
In East Orange, NJ, a city of 27,000 residents, Mermelstein owns 540 units of housing in eight buildings on and around South Harrison Street.
Crime in the area has dropped 75 percent in recent years, Mermelstein said, and upscale renovations have drawn a mix of professional class tenants, bring occupancy from 60 just a couple of years ago to 100 percent, minus turnover.
One-bedroom units rent for $900 to $950 and two-bedrooms for $1,150 to $1,250, he said.
East Orange is located on Route 280, and a midtown direct train takes commuters to Penn Station in 20 minutes. “It’s definitely a hidden gem from a transportation perspective,” Mermelstein said.
Transportation is also a key selling point for Harrison, NJ, where a number of developers are working to transform a formerly industrial area into a residential and entertainment hub.
The population of the one-square-mile, 13,000-resident town is expected to double in the next 10 years.
The soccer stadium Red Bull Arena opened in Harrison in 2010, and the Port Authority is in the midst of a 10-year, multi-billion dollar modernization program.
Between planning and proposals to improve the Route 280 interchange and a new PATH station, Harrison “really becomes an area that, if you close your eyes, you can see a whole new future,” said Peter Cocoziello, president and chief executive of Advance Realty.
Advance is the designated developer for 85 acres in Harrison, and they recently obtained approval for more than 600 new apartments, Cocoziello said.
Within the next eight to 10 years, Advance plans an additional 2,500 apartments, 400,000 s/f of retail, a hotel site and 400,000 s/f of office space in its Riverbend Development, he said.
Cocoziello first discovered Harrison when scouting locations for film industry tenants. Once the area’s potential became clear, there was years’ of work in environmental remediation and infrastructure improvements that needed to be done.
Other developers were also drawn to the area, and together they formed a coalition, the Harrison Redevelopment Association, that is working with the state and local government to facilitate the creation of what is essentially a new neighborhood.
“The idea here was to try to get multiple people using the same location at different times of the day,” said Richard Miller of Ironstate Development, another member of the redevelopment association.
Ironstate recently completed a 1,440-car parking garage that Miller envisions serving residents in the evening and commuters at night.
The first phase of Ironstate’s Harrison Station, a mixed-use residential and retail development, is now 85% leased. Other members of the redevelopment association are also busy.
Heller Urban Renewal is about to begin demolishing 750,000 s/f of blighted industrial buildings to make way for its Harrison Station, a future mixed-use community consisting of 747 one- and two-bedroom luxury residences and approximately 30,000 s/f of ground-floor retail.
Roseland’s River Park at Harrison, a multi-phase development project located on the Passaic River and featuring a pedestrian village with residential homes, shops and commercial space, recently broke ground on
Phase I, which will consist of a 250-unit luxury condominium community.
Element by Westin, a $38 million hotel, received a site plan on the 136 room-hotel this spring adjacent to the PATH station.
Steiner Equities was also recently designated the redeveloper for 2.9 acres at the corner of Harrison Avenue, Dey Street and the Passaic River, and is proposing a 23-story 200-unit residential “signature” building with parking. Construction should commence by late 2013.
Russo Construction recently received planning board approval to construct a four-story mixed-use development including 33,000 s/f of retail and 298 residential rental units. The $50 million-project is expected to begin construction this spring.
“Right now, people are moving to the city,” said Miller, who lives in New Jersey, just west of Harrison. “It’s the transportation that does it for you. The suburban counties in Jersey are losing population at the same time the urban ones are gaining.”