The roof supports to the 100-year-old building, officials said, had deteriorated to the point that they could not likely support a heavy snow. The building - which had been in nearly steady use since its construction in the 1890s as a rail terminal servicing a variety of freight trains - had to be torn down.
Since then, the land has remained vacant, one more sign of the troubled local economy that had seen hard times during the recession of the early 1990s.
Last month, Hudson Development and M. Rappaport Real Estate announced a new project for the site called Castle Industrial Park.
The $10.8 million project, according to Daniel Gliech, a spokesperson for the company, will be constructed in two phases.
The first phase, now under construction, would build a 125,000 square foot single story high-tech business building that will include 100,000 square feet of industrial warehouse space and a 25,000 square foot office atrium.
This would provide a combination of finished office space with light warehouse or distribution facilities. "We're seeking a few larger tenants for this building," Gliech said. "Although if that doesn't happen, then we can break it up into sections of 25,000 square feet each."
These units would have their own parking and their own loading docks, he said.
The facility would also provide high-speed Internet connections, high level electrical systems and advanced sprinkler systems for fire suppression.
The second phase, Gliech said, will begin later, and will focus on a larger tenant who might be seeking a single 50,000 square foot suite.
"This would be a separate building constructed to fit the needs of that tenant," he said.
Hudson Development will begin pre-leasing the facility this month and will divide to suit both larger and smaller tenants. The steel frame - barring complications of weather - is being constructed already, and the occupancy for the first phase is expected for September, 2001.
Gliech said the economic climate has changed since the closing of the outlet center and the condemning of the building in 1994. Because the property's location is only 10 minutes from the Lincoln Tunnel and because of other projects like the Allied Junction rail/business complex, the new convention center and the construction of a Turnpike interchange in the area, Castle Industrial Park will become a very viable project. "It is a large industrial building that will have a significant impact on our tax base," said Mayor Dennis Elwell. "I'll be making a report at the next Town Council meeting [March 13]. This building along with the other new businesses being constructed on that side of town are a sign of things to come for that area." Last year the Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission rezoned the 285 acre site - most of which currently lacks sewage service, electricity or running water except in very limited locations - which had once been slated for major housing development. But for numerous reasons, including resistance from the town of Secaucus, the land could now see massive improvements from the HMDC under the newly proposed redevelopment plan.
The HMDC plan cites the proximity to New York as one of the great advantages of the area, noting that the construction of the Secaucus Transfer Station on an adjacent lot made the property that much more desirable for development. Some of the original plan has already begun to take place, such as the $100 million, 750,000 square foot convention center on the 60-acre Gallo property by HUB Expo Center, Inc., a subsidiary of Corcoran Jennison Construction companies of Boston. In addition to the new convention center slated for that section, Hartz has also started construction on two new facilities, one for Lantis Eyewear and another for Office Depot.
HMDC to the rescue
Doing business on the South End of Secaucus may get a lot easier for other another important reason, Elwell said, noting that the Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission will likely approve at its April meeting a $100,000 grant to do a study of Castle Road.
Although repairs have been made to the road over the last decade, Castle Road has been an engineering disaster, so full of potholes and other problems that many businesses along the roadway have suffered additional costs in maintenance of vehicles.
Business owners along Castle Road often called it a moonscape because of the number and size of the holes. Trucks, buses and cars often have to drive on the wrong side of the road to circumvent these craters. For years, business owners dreaded winter because the road did not get plowed. One winter, the town actually closed Castle Road after a truck overturned there due to icy conditions.
The problem, according to town officials, was the inability of anyone to determine just who owned the road, and thus who should maintain it. While business owners and town officials came to several agreements over the last decade, and eventually - due to business owners getting together - repairs were made, the roadway has been a constant problem.
"The road was owned by an association," Elwell said. "Then the association went out of business." Castle Road was considered a private road, and no one knew how it was constructed. In fact, no one actually knew who built the road, although many business owners believe the road was constructed during the development of Hartz Mountain properties in the 1970s. Some business owners said the road was owned by Castle Road Outlets before it went out of business.
HMDC officials, after a check of their records, said the road was owned by Suburban Capital Inc., which was in the middle of putting together a plan for repair when the company went bankrupt in the early 1990s. The HMDC tried to work out a plan of repair, but struggled to get property owners to come to an agreement. Under the proposed grant expected to be issued to the Secaucus next month, the Town of Secaucus would receive $100,000 for an engineering study.
"Initially the HMDC was going to fund the engineering study and set a price at $40,000," Elwell said. "When they sought proposals, the prices came back at $160,000. We found we could get the PMK Group [the town engineers] to do the study for $100,000 and the HMDC agreed to give us the grant."
This study would look at how the roadway was constructed and how much work would be required to bring it up to the same standards at town's public streets.
"Once this is established, the project could go out to bid," Elwell said. "It will likely require a total rebuilding of the road."
"If we can bring the street up to town standards, then the town would take possession and maintain it," Elwell said.
The HMDC press office said the matter will be presented at the April meeting, but refused to give the details of the project.
A 1999 HMDC study of the south end of Secaucus showed significant problems facing future development in the area, including hazardous conditions for pedestrians and narrow roadways.
Castle Road - which is a moonscape of potholes and other repair problems - is one of the key routes through the HMDC's redevelopment zone.
"Castle Road is in tremendous need of improvement," the report said, "with pavement, curbing drainage, sanitary sewer and streetscape landscaping far below acceptable standards."
Town officials, however, said the HMDC will pay for the engineering and design work, property owners - through a special assessment - will pay for the reconstruction. Details of the assessment, however, have yet to be worked out, such as what standard the HMDC will use for assessing the project. Town officials said the HMDC could base the cost per property on the number of feet each property has along Castle Road or by the total square footage of each property.