The real estate market in Hudson County has withstood the economic recession and rough weather and appears stronger than ever now. Many developers, though wary, see no sign of a price bubble forming.
While the pace of development has slowed in dense communities like Union City and Hoboken, it continues to skyrocket along the waterfront and in interior areas of places like Jersey City, where Mayor Steven Fulop has used strategic tax abatements to lure large-scale residential builders. Overall, according to Fulop’s office, Jersey City has around 6,000 new residential units in construction and 18,000 more in the pipeline.
Jersey City: exploding inward
Though development on the Jersey City waterfront continues apace, the eyes of developers and the Fulop administration have turned eagerly inward, with Journal Square, the West Side, and the so-called “Soho West” neighborhood north of the Holland Tunnel poised to boom with new buildings.
In Journal Square, the area near the busy PATH and NJ Transit bus complex, 25 years without a major development project has given way to at least 20 new projects approved or under construction, promising the neighborhood a return to its former status as a vibrant urban hub.
The avatar of the area’s revitalization remains Journal Squared, the three tower, 1,840-unit KRE Group development that broke ground in October 2014. Phase 1, at 54 stories, is expected to be complete by fall 2016, and will be followed by 60 and 74-story towers, the latter of which could temporarily be the tallest residential building in New Jersey until overtaken by other planned skyscrapers downtown.
Nearby, Hartz Mountain Industries and Panepinto Properties received approval last November for a 13-story, 240-unit rental tower at 3 Journal Square, and HAP Investments LLC is reportedly considering designs for a 42-story residential development on land it purchased for $28 million last year kitty-corner to Journal Squared.
Elsewhere on the square, Kushner Companies and KABR Group have announced plans to build a stepped apartment tower climbing to 40 stories behind the old Jersey Journal building at 30 Journal Square, which will contain 525 rental units.
In January, the development team doubled down on Journal Square, purchasing a vacant 1.5-acre lot across the street from 30 Journal Square for $27 million. While Kushner and KABR have yet to indicate their intentions for the land, previous owner Multi-Employer Property Trust (MEPT) had proposed but failed to deliver two 60-story towers, connected by a skybridge and boasting 1,500 residential units.
In a recent interview, Mayor Fulop said the site plan approvals secured by MEPT could still be used by the lot’s new owners, although he expected the developers to seek amendments to the plans based on their own concept for the site.
The explosion of Journal Square has already begun to influence real estate demand beyond its immediate confines. In February, NJ.com reported the $19.5 million purchase of a four-acre site at the corner of Broadway and West Side Avenue by Amerestate Holdings. The West Side parcel, which includes landmark Italian restaurant Puccini’s, is already zoned for 580 units of mid-rise, multi-family apartments, and Amerestate is expected to take advantage. The site is a roughly 12-minute walk from the Journal Square PATH station.
Coming soon: SoHo West
Wedged between Hamilton Park and southwest Hoboken, the post-industrial SoHo West neighborhood, as its developers have taken to calling it, is beginning to approach a more fully realized form. By the end of 2015, the Manhattan Building Company is expected to complete Cast Iron Lofts II, a new luxury high rise featuring 232 rental units. Its 21-story, 155-unit companion tower was completed in 2013 at the corner of 18th Street and Jersey Avenue.
In addition, the Manhattan Building Company is in the planning stages for two additional Cast Iron Loft buildings encompassing 400 more units.
SoHo West is being promoted for its transit proximity, but it remains a 15-minute walk from the nearest PATH station. Since 2012, NJ Transit has been studying the feasibility of adding a Hudson Bergen Light Rail stop at 18th Street and Jersey Avenue.
A stone’s throw away, the Hoboken Brownstone Company hopes to break ground on Van Leer Place, its six-story, roughly 500-unit residential development at the base of the Palisade cliffs, by the middle of 2016. Located on the former site of the Van Leer Chocolate factory, the complex received approvals in the late 2000s but was mothballed after the recession hit.
With the return of a robust real estate market, Hoboken Brownstone Company President George Vallone said his company has secured a new capital partner and will seek modified site plan approvals soon. What he asks for depends greatly on what is contained in the SoHo West redevelopment plan expected to come before the City Council later this year.
Mayor Fulop would only say that the plan was imminent, but Vallone expects that it will allow developers density bonuses in exchange for privately funding at least part of the multi-million dollar cost of a new light rail station, as well as road and open space improvements.
Already home to seven of the ten tallest buildings in New Jersey, the downtown skyline of Jersey City is poised to break all of its own records. The next decade could see at least eight new residential buildings taller than five hundred feet downtown, including the new tallest building in New Jersey.
The pacesetter is 99 Hudson Street, a 95-story tower that was officially unveiled by Mayor Fulop in January. In place of its original plan for two 60-story towers on the site, China Overseas America now wants to build a singular behemoth featuring 760 residential units and 18,000 square feet of commercial and retail space, surrounded by 7,365 square feet of passive park space.
At a projected 950 feet tall, 99 Hudson Street would easily top the Goldman Sachs building, its future neighbor and the current tallest building in New Jersey at 781 feet. Its units would be condos, a rarity in a market dominated by rentals.
Elsewhere in the neighborhood, two skyscrapers broke ground in 2014 and a third neared completion. In January 2014, Mack-Cali Realty Corporation and Ironstate began construction on the first of three planned 69-story residential towers in its Urban Ready Living Harborside project, which sits amid the Harborside office complex. The 763-unit structure, whose design recalls a mid-game Jenga tower, is expected to be complete in early 2016.
Trump Bay Street followed in May of last year. The 50-story, 447-unit residential tower developed by the Kushner Companies and KABR Group will mirror the current Trump Tower on Morgan Street and carries an expected cost of $193.5 million.
Closer to the Grove Street PATH station, Ironstate and Panepinto’s 70 Columbus is under construction and headed for a fall 2015 projected opening. The 50-story rental building will house 543 luxury apartments and a Sunac Natural Market, an outpost of the New York City chain specializing in organic and natural goods.
70 Columbus is the second leg of a four-phase project that will ultimately include a 150-room hotel and a second 50-story tower with 643 rental apartments. The first phase, a 36-story, 400-unit rental tower at 50 Columbus, was fully leased in 2008.
Among the most sought after undeveloped tracts remaining in downtown Jersey City is Liberty Harbor North, which stretches south of the HBLR tracks between Jersey Avenue and Marin Boulevard. Amendments to the redevelopment plan that governs the area in late 2012 made it easier to build tall, dense buildings, and several developers have stepped in to do just that.
Ironstate began construction on 235 Grand, a 45-story, 670-unit tower at the corner of Grand and Grove streets, in June 2014, and LHN Owner Urban Renewal LLC recently proposed two 44-story mixed use towers containing 900 total apartments nearby at 33 Park Avenue.
It’s easy to see why the demand for development remains so high downtown. It took just seven months to fully lease out the 422 luxury rental units in 18 Park, an 11-story mixed use complex completed by Ironstate Development Company and The KRE Group last July.
Located next to the Marin Boulevard HBLR station in the Liberty Harbor Redevelopment District, the tower also houses 10,500 square feet of retail space and a brand new facility for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Hudson County, which opened last September.
“Jersey City has become a magnet for residents seeking quality housing alternatives at better values than Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn,” said Ironstate President David Barry, “and the area’s extensive mass transportation options including PATH and ferry service to downtown and midtown Manhattan add a level of convenience unparalleled in much of the marketplace.”
Further north in the Powerhouse Arts District, the Art House needed only around eight months to fully lease its 119 luxury apartments. All 12 stories of the Shuster Group development exhibit artwork by local artists, purchased through a special program with the Jersey City Economic Development Corporation that devotes 30 percent of its proceeds to visual arts classes for underserved youth.
The biggest development project in Hoboken in a decade is also the most mysterious one. The outlines of a new transit-oriented development on excess land in the NJ Transit rail yards were set by a redevelopment plan approved by the City Council in December, but the actual height, bulk, density and style of the buildings will only be determined officially through ongoing negotiations between the city, NJ Transit, and its designated developer LCOR.
The plan makes clear that NJ Transit can build up to 2.3 million square feet of new mixed use development across eight buildings, with the largest building topping out at a maximum height of 330 feet. But only the redevelopment agreement under negotiation will establish what NJ Transit can build as of right, and neither side is currently willing to divulge the tenor or topics of the talks.
Another major mixed residential redevelopment plan is expected to come before the City Council for a vote this year, though political posturing ahead of the November municipal election could postpone it. In January, Mayor Dawn Zimmer speculated that the Western Edge Redevelopment Plan, which covers 11 acres of underutilized industrial buildings on the extreme northwestern edge of Hoboken along the HBLR tracks, would come to a vote in 2015. Two separate proposals for mid-rise, mixed use developments in the Western Edge were rejected by the Hoboken Zoning Board of Adjustment last year.
The only major active project in the Western Edge, Bijou Properties’ 11-story, 135-unit luxury rental tower at 900 Monroe St., is under construction and expected to begin leasing by November 2015.
Near Hoboken’s northern entrance, Bijou Properties is also currently building a 212-unit luxury rental building known as Park & Garden. Along with another LEED Gold-aimed design, Park & Garden will incorporate 52,667 square feet of space for both new retail and the Elysian Charter School, which signed a 30-year lease in the building in February. The development is expected to be complete in May.
One interesting neighborhood has sprouted north of the 14th Street Viaduct. The “NovHo” neighborhood (pronounced similar to SoHo) has seen industrial areas replaced with theater groups, hip businesses, classes, and low-rise residential buildings. To go with the county’s $54 million renovation of the historical viaduct, the city recently added a small park and dog run. More restaurants and development are expected.
Finishing the waterfront
In northeast Hoboken, Toll Brothers broke ground this past fall on the final stage of their Hoboken Cove Planned Unit Development, a 12-story, 236-unit condo building known as 1400 Hudson. Like 1450 Washington across the street, the tower will be pitched for luxury, with three roof decks and an outdoor pool, according to Toll Brothers Vice President Henry Waller.
The building received initial city approvals in 1998, but was not pursued seriously until it was clear that Hoboken’s real estate market had fully recovered from the 2008 recession. The best indication for that may have been the sales at 1100 Maxwell Place, Toll Brothers’ newest completed condo building in the Maxwell House Planned Unit Development. The 12-story, 210-unit building had an interest list with over 1,000 names as early as May 2013, and is 80 percent sold after a year on the market, according to Waller. With such strong demand, Toll Brothers has already begun planning the final stage of the Maxwell House PUD as well.
Though the building will have the same height and approximate envelope as the rest of the Maxwell Place complex, said Waller, specifics like doors, brick color, and windows have yet to be finalized, and Toll Brothers will most likely seek amendments to its final site plan approval for the tower.
Maxwell’s last drop could begin construction in two to three years, according to Waller, while 1400 Hudson should be complete by winter 2016.
A stone’s throw from Maxwell Place and 1400 Hudson on a dilapidated pier, Ironstate Development continues to push for permission to build two 11-story residential towers. The project has approvals from the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Hoboken Planning Board, the latter via a court ruling, but its rejection before the Hudson County Planning Board in 2012 was upheld last October by a vote of the Hudson County Board of Freeholders.
All the rulings are currently under litigation.
The recent growth in Bayonne’s residential market beautifully illustrates how crucial public transit is to Hudson County. Just four years after NJ Transit completed the final leg of the Hudson Bergen Light Rail’s extension to Eighth Street in Bayonne, the area surrounding the southern terminus of the line is the subject of a state-produced rehabilitation plan that could bring a 22-story residential tower, and a host of new projects have sprung up around another light rail station in Bayonne.
In close proximity to the 22nd Street Light Rail station, one project was completed last April, and another is approved and set to begin construction later this year. The first project renovated four buildings of the former Maidenform factory at Avenue E and Eighteenth Street to create 85 “Brooklyn-style” loft apartments. In addition to proximity to the light rail, the Silk Lofts complex offers amenities like a fitness center, on-site parking, and a landscaped pocket park featuring an herb garden, barbeque, and pizza oven.
Nearby at Avenue E and 22nd Street, Skye Development of Bayonne has begun clearing the former Bayonne Plumbing site in preparation for a 190 rental unit residential complex.
Skye Development representative Mitchell Burakovsky said the $40 million project, known as Skye Lofts, could begin construction in six months. When completed, it will entail two six-story buildings, one with 100 market rate units and one with 90 market rate units. Its amenities will include on-site parking, gyms, conference rooms, and children’s playrooms.
Further south, the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs has developed a rehabilitation plan that could change the zoning around the Eighth Street Light Rail station, allowing underutilized lots to see new commercial and residential development, including a possible 22-story residential tower that would instantly become an iconic structure for Bayonne.
Under the proposed plan, said Bayonne city planner Sue Mack, developers would have to satisfy a number of as yet unspecified conditions to unlock a “community density bonus” possibly allowing 22 stories of height. Still, local developers like John Cali and Lance Lucarelli say they are highly motivated to build high.
Cali’s imagined structure would contain 340 apartments with panoramic views of New York City, five stories of parking, and bottom floor retail.
“I think it would be a signature landmark for Bayonne. It would be visible for miles, if we’re allowed to build this,” Cali said. “It would be like two office towers in New Brunswick. What New Jersey knows as an entry to New Brunswick, I think could be similar for Bayonne; something seen from highways a long distance away.”
The Eighth Street Rehabilitation Plan is scheduled to come before the Bayonne City Council for a final vote by the end of March.
When Mitchell E. Hersh, the CEO of real estate developer Roseland, came to the Palisades overlooking the waterfront back in the early 1990s, he had a vision of a Port Imperial neighborhood that offered shops, restaurants, and parks mere feet from the Hudson River.
In 1999, construction of a projected 6,500 residential units on the southern mile in Weehawken began – a combination of town houses, condos and rentals, along with about 1,000 retail spaces.
Last summer, Lennar Urban completed the first building in its segment of the Weehawken waterfront, the luxury residential Avenue Collection just south of the Port Imperial Ferry Terminal.
The $50 million, seven-story building houses 74 one-to three-bedroom condos with an average of 1,600 square feet per unit. Despite price tags ranging from $800,000 to $4 million, the 1000 Avenue at Imperial building was 60 percent sold upon its ribbon-cutting in July, and has risen to 70 percent since.
Already, Lennar has broken ground on the next stage of the Avenue Collection, 1200 Avenue at Port Imperial, which will feature 103 luxury condos.
All told, the Avenue Collection will boast 669 condos when fully built out. The entire complex will be built in glass, which is a departure from the wood and brick facades of nearby projects, and will offer its residents Manhattan skyline views, a concierge service, and a fitness center replete with saunas and steam showers.
Another nearby residential project, Roseland’s RiverParc at Port Imperial, is all but complete and schedule to open officially by the end of this month. The 10-story complex contains 280 luxury rentals, not to mention a juice bar, bocce courts, an outdoor terrace with hot tub and fire pit and an in-house cinema screen.
As part of its agreement with the township of Weehawken, Roseland is spending $2 million on the construction of a linear park along the Hudson River Waterfront Walkway just south of the Port Imperial ferry terminal. Construction began in May 2014.
Roseland’s investment in the waterfront has involved significant infrastructure such as pilings and stabilization, new water and sewerage systems, roads and such, making it significantly more up to date than development in places like Jersey City, said Roseland President Marshall B. Tycher.
West New York
Roseland’s Port Imperial waterfront community extends over the border from Weehawken into West New York, where RiverTrace, a 316-unit luxury rental building, opened officially in late 2013.
Developed by Roseland and financed by UBS, the $120 million complex features a collection of rental units offering panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline.
Recently, the building was certified as a LEED Silver building by the U.S. Green Building Council in recognition of its sustainable, energy-efficient design.
According to information supplied by Roseland, over 90 percent of RiverTrace’s regularly occupied space has access to daylight, including each of its 316 apartments. In total, it is estimated that RiverTrace is over 25 percent more efficient than industry standard multi-family dwellings.
“It was a priority for us to utilize the latest offerings in green technology to meet a high standard for sustainable living,” said Andrew Marshall, Roseland’s executive vice president for development. “There’s a tremendous amount of responsibility as a developer and manager not only to create a comfortable and aesthetically-pleasing place to live, but also to mitigate environmental impacts in the process.”
Earlier this year, critics of a controversial 13-story development proposed for Boulevard East had a chance to make their concerns known at a public meeting of the West New York Zoning Board of Adjustment.
Residents at a Jan. 22 meeting said Meridia Le Boulevard, a 13-story, 157-unit tower proposed by the Capodagli Property Company, would increase traffic, block sunlight and views of the Manhattan skyline, and harm the character of the Boulevard East neighborhood.
In the press, representatives from Capodagli have defended their plans as a “complementary addition” to the neighborhood and an intermediate point between taller and lower buildings nearby.
North Bergen and Guttenberg
North Bergen is also seeing significant new development along the waterfront and it its downtown area. According to city spokesman Phil Swibinski, a 12-story, 290-unit luxury rental complex on the waterfront developed by LWH, LLC is halfway done with construction, and a nearby nine-story, 230-unit luxury complex known as Riverview received Planning Board approval in 2013.
All told, said Swibinski, over 1,000 new residential units are in the pipeline for North Bergen, including the planned redevelopment of the old Hudson News warehouse downtown.
A new waterfront park that spans between North Bergen and Guttenberg along the Hudson River waterfront was completed last year. The park features a playground, amphitheater, and several grass fields. Most of the $2.8 million needed to construct the park came from the Hudson County Open Space Trust fund.
A true transit hub
In transportation news, a number of potential expansions for Hudson County’s train lines are under examination. In December, the Port Authority hired a firm to determine the feasibility of extending the PATH to Newark Liberty International Airport.
Actualizing the Hudson Bergen Light Rail’s moniker by extending it to Bergen County has long been supported by Hudson County officials, but money appears to be the greatest obstacle. NJ Transit is facing an $80 million funding gap in Gov. Christopher Christie’s new budget.
In December, NY Waterway announced that it would continue weekend ferry service between Paulus Hook and the World Financial Center in lower Manhattan even after weekend PATH service between Jersey City and the World Trade Center was restored. The weekend service began as a Port Authority-subsidized pilot when PATH closures began in March 2014, but NY Waterway said the route’s average ridership of 6,000 passenger trips per weekend day was enough to justify its continuation through the winter.
Hudson County boasts one of just six urban rapid transit systems in the United States that does not close overnight (the PATH) and offers various transit options into and out of Manhattan via ferry, commuter rail, subway, and bus.
Last year, a long-term planning report generated by a Port Authority panel recommended cutting overnight PATH service, but Hudson County officials rallied against it. The idea appears to be off the table for now.
NOTE: An earlier version of this article stated incorrectly that Mitchell E. Hersh had recently stepped down as the CEO of Roseland Properties. He continues to serve as the CEO of Roseland, a subsidiary of Mack-Cali.
Al Sullivan, Art Schwartz and Joe Passantino contributed to this report. Carlo Davis may be reached at email@example.com.