As developers search for new opportunities in the Gold Coast, the 19-mile stretch of New Jersey from the Bayonne Bridge to the George Washington Bridge, they are seeing their target market of renters broaden beyond the 25 to 35-year-old millennials that were once the primary focus.
The future of development in Hudson County was the topic of discussion at the Third Annual New Jersey Gold Coast and Spring Multifamily Summit, held on March 5 at Maritime Parc in Jersey City.
Jose Cruz, the senior managing director of commercial realty group HFF, L.P., said more young renters are now interested in staying on the Gold Coast, even to raise their families.
“It used to be you graduated college,” said Cruz, “went to Hoboken, you met a significant other, maybe moved up the coast to Weehawken or North Bergen, had your first child, came to Edgewater, then you go west to Morris County or Somerset County and buy your house. Today, you’re seeing that demographic stay, and either stay in Hoboken or stay along the water.”
“We’ve had to adjust the way we design our products to address that broad spectrum of renter,” said Richard Murphy, a managing director at Mill Creek Residential Trust, LLC. “We see that in how we lay out our buildings [and] the amenity packages that we have.”
Gabriel Shiff, an executive vice president at Roseland Property, said his company’s apartment buildings in Weehawken and West New York featured amenities like pools and playrooms to attract and retain these young families.
Amenity packages are becoming more important than apartments themselves in attracting millennials, according to AvalonBay Vice President Patrick Gniadek.
“They’re changing and becoming more specialized,” said Gniadek. “I’ve been in the industry for a long time and we never thought of bike repair rooms or vending machines that sold spare tires or spare parts for bicycles or dog stations.”
Getting to the city
When marketing to millennials, said Murphy, the most crucial amenity remains ease of access to New York City via public transportation.
This same concern constrains where new developments can still be built in Hudson County. With communities at the core of the Gold Coast like Hoboken mostly built out, developers looking to places like Bayonne are trying to gauge how willing residents are to have a two-seat commute to work in New York City, typically a bus or the Hudson Bergen Light Rail followed by the PATH train.
“Public transit is not intended to be profitable.”—John Leon
Some developers have addressed this issue by bypassing transit legs altogether. Murphy was involved in the rollout of Alexan CityView, the first residential development to be built on the former Military Ocean Terminal in Bayonne, and he said in addition to providing shuttle service to the nearby 34th Street Hudson Bergen Light Rail station, the complex runs five shuttles every weekday morning and evening that go straight to the Grove Street PATH station in Jersey City.
Investing in the Gold Coast’s future
With transit and development so critically linked in Hudson County, expansion of the systems that currently serve the county are a hot topic. Another of the panels at the New Jersey Gold Coast Summit discussed the future of public transportation as the county continues to grow.
At certain peak times, NJ Transit service from New Jersey to Penn Station is already at full capacity, said John Leon, the senior director of government & community relations at NJ Transit.
Funding, or its lack thereof, remains the most critical obstacle to expanding and maintaining the public transit systems of Hudson County, according to Leon.
Any number of proposals have been floated to increase the reach and capacity of Hudson County’s transit links to New York City, such as the Access to the Region's Core tunnel, the Gateway Project, and an extension of the 7 subway to Secaucus.
However, cost estimates for such projects invariably run in the tens of billions, and Leon observed diplomatically that the New Jersey Transportation Trust Fund is “not sufficiently funded,” (according to news reports, the fund is $14.8 billion in debt).
Even smaller transit projects like the construction of a new Hudson Bergen Light Rail station at 18th Street and Jersey Avenue in northern Jersey City cannot be funded by NJ Transit alone.
The station would serve the burgeoning SoHo West neighborhood, and representatives from the Hoboken Brownstone Company and Lincoln Equities Group, which have proposed developments in the area, said a new HBLR stop is crucial to their future plans.
“Light rail is the opportunity for new areas to get developed,” said Lincoln Equities Group President Joel Bergstein.
Still, Leon said, even if the Transportation Trust Fund was on better footing, NJ Transit does not have the capital to build a new 18th Street station without some infusion of private funding from developers.
In response to a question about making transit authorities like NJ Transit more economically independent and sustainable, Leon defended the way his organization sets ticket prices and raises money.
“Public transit is not intended to be profitable,” he said. “It never is, and I don’t think there’s a transit system anywhere that makes money…we definitely want to price the transit system so that it’s attractive and becomes a viable alternative to driving, and that’s why public transportation supports the economy.”
Carlo Davis may be reached at email@example.com.