Although he has been removed from the area for quite some time, Jordan Gruzen fondly recalls the days when he was a youngster growing up in the Greenville section of Jersey City.
"I lived on Stegman Parkway in Jersey City," said Gruzen, the driving force behind the distinguished and powerful New York-based Gruzen Samton architectural firm. The firm has been recognized internationally as one of the giants in the architectural, planning and interior design world. "My father founded the firm when we lived in Jersey City," Gruzen said, "and it was first located on Journal Square in Jersey City in 1936."
Back then, the firm was known as Kelly & Gruzen, founded by Gruzen's father, B. Sumner, and Col. Hugh Kelly, a famed Jersey City historical figure.
Kelly & Gruzen remained a prominent part of the Jersey City architectural scene until 1972, when the firm became known as Gruzen Samton and the offices moved to Manhattan.
Now 69, Jordan Gruzen, who followed in his father's footsteps and became an architect himself, is making his way back to New Jersey with several significant projects.
"Lately, we've turned a lot of our focus to New Jersey and especially the Gold Coast of Hudson County, because there is a lot of opportunity there," Gruzen said. "It's not a coincidence that most of our newer projects are right on the water's edge."
The firm has been behind the design and the development of such established projects as the Galaxy luxury apartments in Guttenberg, the Riva Pointe residential complex in Weehawken's Lincoln Harbor, Newport in Jersey City, Portside in Jersey City, and the new Liberty Towers project in Jersey City, which is the largest complex on this side of the Hudson. Opened last year, Liberty Towers offers 648 luxury apartment units at the site of the old Colgate-Palmolive plant.
Gruzen Samton is also behind the design for the new Northwest Development in Hoboken, one of four residential developments that the firm has designed that encompass entire city blocks in Hoboken.
In addition, the firm has helped to design several schools in the state, including the new Public School No. 3, which is currently being built on Grand Street and Jersey Avenue in downtown Jersey City.
The firm is also behind the design of the reconstruction and reformation of the new NY Waterway ferry terminal in Weehawken.
"Those drawings are completed," Gruzen said about the NY Waterway ferry terminal. "It's now being reviewed by the state Department of Transportation and the state Department of Community Affairs, and later this year, [it] will go out to bids [for construction]. We hope to see it start construction on that project sometime next year."
The company is also involved in the resurgence of Newark with two major reconstruction projects, turning existing commercial space into luxury residential housing in downtown areas. In fact, the firm is so involved in the New Jersey market these days that they are planning to open a satellite office in Newark in the near future.
"I think it's a combination of three things," Gruzen said. "It's our own personal interest, because of our Jersey roots. It's where the market has the most value, where people are willing to pay to live, especially along the Gold Coast. The value jumps up if you have a water view. Plus, there are so many transportation hubs underway, with the [NJ Transit Hudson-Bergen] Light Rail and the ferry terminal. It makes it so very easy to commute."
Added Gruzen, "It's a very exciting time for us. We've put the focus back into New Jersey. It is my home. I have a lot of friends and business contacts in Hudson County."
Michael Gelfand, a partner in the company for 17 years, has been overseeing a lot of the Hudson County projects.
"For so many years, our focus was in New York," Gelfand said. "But the Jersey market has really blossomed and now we're doing a lot of projects. Jersey City and Hoboken are both very hot commodities right now and we're pleased to be involved in both communities."
Gelfand said that he is currently involved with plans for a Jersey City development called Liberty Harbor North, which will be a mixed bag of four-story residential condominiums, apartments, and townhouses in downtown Jersey City, calling for "five full blocks of housing," as Gelfand calls it.
"It's going to be an interesting sort of development, one that might go on for 20 years," Gelfand said. "The first residents there will be pioneers. It will be creating a new section of Jersey City that was never developed and will evolve around that transit hub."
Future of Riva Pointe
Gelfand said that a number of projects in the northwest section of Hoboken are in the planning stages and are ready to appear in front of the Hoboken Planning Board in the coming months.
Also, Gelfand said that there is talk to finally complete the Riva Pointe luxury housing complex that juts out of the Lincoln Harbor area on the Weehawken waterfront. Because of a lack of funding, as well as the prior ownership going into bankruptcy on two separate occasions, the Riva Pointe project stopped after the second phase. It was supposed to continue on to the Hudson River waterfront when initially designed, but never reached completion.
Now, the new ownership, the Pearson Partnership of New York, expressed interest to Gruzen Samton that the project could move forward as designed nearly 15 years ago.
"They feel that the market is back and they plan to build the rest of the project, using our original design," Gelfand said. "We have signed on with the Pearson Partnership to act as design consultants. I believe they're ready to move ahead with the completion of the project."
Gelfand said that he was pleased to be working with Hudson County officials once again.
"It's kind of nice to go back," Gelfand said. "It's really exciting. We've been a part of the community there for so long, so we're back and checking into other possible developments."
Preliminary discussions have begun with North Bergen officials as well for possible residential and educational development opportunities, but Gelfand would not get into specifics about the meetings.
"We've had calls from several developers," Gruzen said. "They're coming back to us and wanting us to do work. We're still going strong. I'm happy to come back home and be more actively involved in improving the area."