$40M state grant moves high-rise project forward

New Newport development will include 20 percent affordable housing

A handful of Jersey City kids were posed in front of the old Pep Boys store just north of the Power House building on this weekday in June at the start of the summer school recess. The building had ceased functioning several years ago, and now was a platform for local graffiti artists and the back drop for selfies.
The site was part of a slowly deteriorating shopping mall at Marin Boulevard and 6th Street that includes a ShopRite, BJ’s Wholesale Club and Bed, and Bath & Beyond, on an 18-acre site that city officials hope will soon blossom into a large scale new community.
The first of as many as 16 towers is expected to break ground on the Pep Boy site by the end of the summer, the first phase in a much larger project called Hudson Exchange West.
The first of a multi-phase project, the 35-story tower will be 336 market-rate units, 85 affordable units, 10,000 square feet of retail space, and an accessory parking garage. New street improvements surrounding the block, as well as a public plaza that includes more than 10,000 square feet of new open space, are also part of the plan.
Mayor Steven M. Fulop said last week that this would be the first waterfront development in nearly three decades that provides 80 percent market rate and 20 percent affordable units. The hi-rise can now move forward with help from the New Jersey Economic Development Agency (NJ EDA).
The NJ EDA earlier this month granted $40 million in Economic Redevelopment Grant tax credits, which made the project viable. One of the conditions of the grant is that 20 percent of the units be listed as affordable. Residents making 80 percent of the median salary for the area would be eligible.
The 20 percent affordable housing is more than the usual quantity that developers of comparable projects have agreed to.

“We have to be thoughtful about how we weave this project into the existing community.” – Abe Naparstek
According to Fulop this project is consistent with the administration’s commitment to bring affordable housing all areas of the city, including downtown, while encouraging market rate development away from the waterfront.
“We couldn’t be more excited about this project moving forward as this will be the first significant onsite affordable housing development in downtown in decades,” Fulop said. “As we continue to develop and expand Jersey City, we also want to bring diversity to every single community, which means a mix of age, race, religion, economic, and of corporate and residential development. This is the first of several projects that will incorporate our vision of providing opportunity for all residents.”

A change of priorities

Originally proposed in 2011, the massive project will be built by Forrest City Residential Group, which took over the project in 2013.
Abe Naparstek, senior vice president of the Residential Group for Forest City Enterprises, said the project has changed significantly from the original concept, partly as the result of meeting with local community groups.
The original plan for the site included 16 towers spread out amongst six large lots which only accommodated big box retail. The planned green space was limited and not accessible to the outside communities.
After getting feedback and input from the community, the new plan will increase open space by a third and create a centrally-located park for all residents of Jersey City.
Councilwoman Candice Osborne, who Naparstek credited with setting up the meetings with community groups, said the residents of the area had a number of concerns about the original project.
One of the largest was the original concept that would have broken up the city’s street grid. The new approach to the whole project will be to allow streets to pass through the proposed area.
Osborne also said she wanted to see what she called “a holistic commuting approach” that is “multi-modal.”
“So that you can go from bike to light rail to walking,” she said. The Harsimus Cove station of the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail is a short walk from the site of the first tower.
She also wanted the parking design for the retail tenants to be done in a way that was most effective from a safety and traffic perspective.
These concerns were addressed in the new plans, and will recreate historic street connections that the existing mall area had voided when constructed.
This will open up surrounding neighborhoods and the entire area will increase in pedestrian activity and an enhanced urban vibrancy, Naparstek said. “We have embraced the mayor’s vision for increased green space.”
“We took a look at the project when we took over in 2011, and decided to change some things,” he said. “We did not want to have a lot of superblocks. We decided to break up the scale and create something that is more on a human scale while still keeping the overall density of the project.”

Building a whole community

His company has done a lot of development throughout the country, and he believes they are bringing what they learned elsewhere to Jersey City.
The big difference between this project and others that have come to Jersey City is the scale.
Most of the other projects are stand alone, where as this project is a master plan for as many as 16 residential towers, he said.
The Pep Boys store site is the first phase in this larger development.
“We have to be thoughtful about how we weave this project into the existing community,” he said, noting that the Power House district is just south of this development area.
“This is going to be one of the largest communities in the city, but we do not want it to be a fortress,” he said.
He said he expects the first phase to break ground by the end of the summer and open at some point in 2017.
“If market stays as it is, then we’d like to start building every couple years,” he said. “The second building has preliminary site approvals.”
“Forest City Residential Group is a great partner with the city and we are pleased to be working with them on this project, as it can be a model for how to build market rate and affordable housing in cities like Jersey City and around the country,” Fulop said.
“Forest City Residential Group is committed to creating a dynamic new neighborhood that is fully integrated into the fabric of the existing Jersey City community,” said Naparstek. “We are proud to be the first mixed income development on the waterfront in decades and the combination of open space, transportation access, retail amenities, and affordable housing will make Hudson Exchange West attractive to everyone.”

Al Sullivan may be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com.

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