Local developers began construction this week to turn a vacant waterfront lot between Third and Fourth streets into the site of a sparkling new 13-story residential and commercial complex with 526 residential apartments and more than 60,000 square feet of retail space. The action represents the first attempt at building on a stretch of land that officials have targeted for redevelopment for years. The construction is taking place on "Block C" of the south waterfront, with projects on blocks A and B to follow (see sidebar). When it is completed in approximately 18 months, the $100 million dollar facility will feature "Manhattan-style amenities" like a 24-hour concierge, two landscaped rooftop parks and 584 new parking spaces, according to representatives from Applied Development/Starwood Heller, the companies erecting the facility. In addition, the agreement clears the way for the Port Authority to extend a 30-foot wide waterfront walkway from Pier A Park all the way to Sinatra Park. (Due to a state law forcing Hudson waterfront developers to contribute to the walkway, it will ultimately run from Bayonne to the George Washington Bridge.) A smiling cast featuring Senator Robert Torricelli (D-NJ), Rep. Robert Menendez (D-13th Dist.), Mayor Anthony Russo and Joseph Barry of Applied Development, turned the ceremonial first dirt on Monday morning. "We have started something here that will transform this area into unique commercial and residential properties that will provide new jobs for area residents and significant economic growth for Hoboken," said Russo, standing in a tent that had been put up next to the muddy lot. "Perhaps most importantly, we are ensuring public access to the waterfront and much-needed recreational space for our residents." The three blocks that stretch from First Street to Fourth Street had been targeted for redevelopment since 1984, when the Port Authority was instructed by law to help the city redevelop its waterfront. The southern waterfront had once been a center of commercial activity, but it was largely abandoned after steamship lines and shipyards weighed anchor and the Maxwell House Coffee plant closed. After years of legal wrangling about how to take action, the Port Authority bought the three blocks from the city for $19 million and then leased them back for $1. Ninety percent of the funds necessary to build the facility are being provided by the AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust, an arm of the national union that has been investing member's pension funds in new housing projects since 1964. The balance of the project's funding is being supplied by a partnership between Applied and Starwood-Heller. Both development firms are very active in this area. Applied, which currently owns and manages more than 5,000 residences in New Jersey, is in the midst of developing a mixed-use community of 1,160 luxury rental and for sale residences at the Shipyard in uptown Hoboken. Starwood-Heller is a joint venture between Heller Enterprises Inc., a major developer of residential, office and retail properties and the Starwood Opportunity Fund, a real estate investment fund with more than $1.5 billion in assets. After the meeting, Torricelli said that he was pleased that the local firms were developing the site. "These are people from the community," Torricelli said. "We know that they will build something with good high-quality materials because they want it to be here for years and years." The partnership is also one of two companies that has put in a bid on "Block B," an area stretching from Second to Third Street along the water that has been zoned for commercial development. The other developer is SJP Properties of Parsippany, which is planning to build an office tower on Block A. After the groundbreaking, Barry said that he was hopeful the Port Authority and the city would designate a developer for Block B soon. "This groundbreaking gives the decision-makers a shot in the arm that may make them move a little faster," Barry said. "Of course this gives us a little bit of credibility insofar as it shows that we do what we say we are going to do, but I don't think it changes the deliberations."