The real estate market in Hudson County continues to be something of a mixed bag as the region and the nation struggle to recover from the recession, housing crisis, and credit crunch.
On a positive front, office space in the county boasts the lowest vacancy rate in New Jersey at 5.7 percent, according to a January report from Rutgers University. Property on the Hudson waterfront is sought as a less expensive alternative to Manhattan. Several major commercial development projects remain on track to open this year.
Roseland Property will complete the residential development of Port Imperial
This year, construction should be completed on the Monaco Towers, twin residential buildings rising at the corner of Washington Blvd. and Sixth Street. The towers will ultimately include 500 luxury rental units and 11,000 square feet of retail space. Originally planned as a condo development, Monaco Towers has, like some similar projects, changed to rental. Construction of the long-delayed development finally began in May of 2009 after the developer received a revised tax abatement deal from the city.
The San Remo, a third tower originally included in the Monaco Towers development, has been put on hold.
In other news, Hilton has proposed a 300-room hotel for Marin Blvd. The $118 million development, which would be part of Hilton’s top-of-the line Conrad brand of hotels, would also include 470 residential units and 12,294 square feet of retail space. Toward the end of last year, the Jersey City Council considered an ordinance to give an $8 million loan to Tramz Hotel, the developer of the project. The ordinance was, however, pulled to give the council more time to answer specific concerns. It will likely come up again for consideration early this year.
As 2009 drew to a close, Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy and the City Council received the results of an audit that recommended changes in the way city officials deal with developers. Any changes implemented by the audit will likely go into effect in 2010.
Healy requested the audit after an FBI corruption investigation led to the arrests of 44 public officials and others in July 2009. Many of those arrested, including Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini, had met several times with an FBI informant who posed as a developer who wanted his development projects expedited in exchange for illegal campaign contributions.
The audit recommended that elected leaders be prohibited from meeting with developers and that one-on-one meetings between developers and other city officials be limited. The audit also urged the city to improve its ethics rules.
One of the biggest development stories of 2009 – the renegotiation of tax abatements for developments – could be a hot button issue again this year if the real estate market is slow to recover from the recession. Several major complexes asked to renegotiate their abatements last year (see last week’s issue for more on that).
With most of Hoboken’s major developments completed or near completion, most attention this year will probably focus on NJ Transit’s controversial plans to redevelop the rail yard at the south end of the mile-square city.
Last year, NJ Transit announced plans to build a massive 70-story tower – next to eight other 45-story buildings – on the 36-acre rail yard located between the Hoboken PATH station and the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail.
The agency’s proposal, dubbed the Hoboken Terminal and Yard Redevelopment Plan, would include 3,200 condos, which critics argue would put a burden on municipal services and exacerbate the city’s current parking and traffic problems.
Mayor Dawn Zimmer, who was elected in a special election last fall, has vowed to fight NJ Transit’s plan. Mayor Zimmer has been meeting with NJ Transit brass and officials in Trenton to stop current plans for the site. She is also hopeful that a bill proposed in the state legislature, which would allow NJ Transit more freedom to build what it wants in cities without their input, will be changed.
Plans by Avak Properties and U&G Development to build three retail stores across from the Palisades Medical Center will likely continue to be a flashpoint of controversy in this town. A coalition of residents and activists recently filed a lawsuit to block construction.
Last summer it looked as if construction on the site would indeed be halted after the Hudson County Department of Parks, Engineering, and Planning determined that the development could overwhelm the water and sewer systems and would be built on a 71 percent steep slope. The town wanted to see the coffee shop, Walgreens and Bank of America built because they will provide taxes.
The development was granted an “extraordinary hardship” variance and construction was allowed to continue.
Phase II of Xchange at Secaucus Junction, near Laurel Hill Park and the Frank R. Lautenberg Rail Station, will be completed this year. The second phase of a four-phase housing development in the south end of Secaucus, Xchange will ultimately include 2,000 units of housing. About 230 units will be set aside for affordable housing. There will also be more than 1,000 feet of a riverfront walkway and an amphitheater.
The first building, which included 304 rental units (64 of which are affordable), was completed in the spring of 2008. The second building, slated for completion in the spring of 2010, includes 178 rental units (38 of which are affordable) along with 28,000 square feet of retail space. An additional 318 rental units will remain following the completion of the second building. Two additional sections remain, as originally planned, which include 735 active adult units and 500 river-front market units for sale.
Also this year, a controversial plan to move two county public high schools -- High Tech High School in North Bergen and County Prep in Jersey City – to Secaucus could move closer to becoming a reality in 2010.
In an interview with the Secaucus Reporter last summer, Frank Gargiulo, superintendent of the Hudson County Schools of Technology, said “plans are on track” for High Tech and County Prep to move to Secaucus. According to him, High Tech’s current building needs so much work and so many renovations that it would cost more money to repair its current facility than to construct a new building.
Secaucus has long been considered ideal for a new location because Hudson County, which operates the Schools of Technology, already owns the land adjacent to Laurel Hill Park and therefore would not have to purchase the land to build a new facility. Advocates of the move note that situating the school close to a major transportation hub – the Frank R. Lautenberg Rail Station is nearby Laurel Hill Park – also makes sense.
The county is still considering other sites for the school, but Secaucus appears to be the frontrunner for the new 400,000 square foot facility, and the Hudson County Board of Education has already submitted a zoning application to the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission for a site on the periphery Laurel Hill Park.
The county’s plans are controversial, however. The Hackensack Riverkeeper and other environmentalists are demanding that the park area be preserved as open space. Michael Gonnelli, Secaucus’ new mayor, has also expressed opposition to having a school at Laurel Hill.
Redevelopment of the 430-acre former Military Ocean Terminal site will continue this year. Now known as the Peninsula at Bayonne Harbor, the site will eventually be home to residential, commercial, and office space, which will be spread across six planned districts: the Loft District, Harbor Station, Bayonne Bay, the Landing, Bayonne Point, and the Maritime Industrial District.
Last spring, residents began moving into the 577-unit apartment complex developed by Trammel Crow at the Peninsula. Meanwhile, two other firms, Fidelco/Roseland Realty and Bayonne Bay Assoc., jockeyed for the right to develop other portions of the Peninsula.
Officials also unveiled a new docking berth last spring which will be used by the Royal Caribbean cruise ship line and other companies.
Construction should also be completed on the Bayonne Crossing Shopping Center late this year. The 360-square-foot mall located on Route 440 New Hook Road and East 22nd Street is expected to generate 1,200 construction jobs and about 800 to 900 permanent positions. Loew’s Home Improvement, Walmart, and Best Buy are among the anchor stores that have already signed leases.
The $80 million project being developed by the Cameron Group received a $23 million state loan. In September, the Bayonne City Council agreed to guarantee the loan, which gave the developer the ability to apply for a low-interest loan from the New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure.
Local officials expect Bayonne Crossing to generate $1.2 million in tax revenue and up to $4 million in Urban Enterprise Zone money for the cash-strapped city.
Weehawken/West New York
Roseland Property will complete the residential development of Port Imperial, which is being developed in several phases and which already houses many residents. The $1.7 billion project spans two miles of Hudson County waterfront from Weehawken through West New York to the southern tip of Guttenberg. Final plans call for approximately 6,500 units of housing and two million square feet of commercial development that will include retail and office space. Much of the residential housing – 4,360 units – is in West New York, known simply as Port Imperial. Port Imperial South, in Weehawken, includes 1,632 units of housing.
Envisioned as a self-contained small city unto itself, a hotel and recreation facilities are also eventually planned for the site.
In other West New York news, residents have been heading to Zoning Board meetings to protest a planned 22-story development at 5701 Park Ave. Critics claim that the high rise development would be incompatible with the surrounding neighborhood of family homes.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.