A whole new world

Developers break ground on residences in former Pep Boys lot

Men in hard hats moved across the Jersey City site that had once housed a Pep Boys auto center last Wednesday, working with coordinated tenacity and marking the beginning of what may be the city’s most ambitious construction project in decades.
“For most ground breaking, people usually have a pile of dirt and a few shovels,” said Abe Naparstek, senior vice president of residential development for Forest City Realty Trust. “We wanted to have something we could show.”
Although dubbed as a groundbreaking, work on Hudson Exchange West actually began last November.
Over the next 20 years this project is expected to result in the construction of 12 new residential towers on an 18-acre site near Marin Boulevard and Second Street, close to the Newport Mall and near the waterfront.
Dignitaries who attended the ceremony on March 9 got to see a giant crane lift van-sized pieces of scaffolding to the rising structure that will become the first of two towers in this complex.
Last year, the Jersey City Council approved a 25-year tax abatement that allowed the construction to move forward. In exchange for the tax abatement, Forest City will pay Jersey City 7 percent of its annual gross revenue from the $449 million project.

“We wanted to have something we could show.” – Abe Naparstek
The first tower will be a 35-story residential building on the site of the former Pep Boys auto store and will cost about $220 million. The first two towers are expected to cost about $449 million to construct.
What makes this project unique beyond its massive scope is that for the first time in more than three decades, affordable housing will be included in a project along the waterfront, some twenty percent of the total units, officials said.
The project received $40 million in state tax credit approved by the state Economic Development Authority, and this allowed the project to include affordable housing, officials said.

Affordable housing on the waterfront

The two initial towers will bring 165 such units to the waterfront for the first time.
Market-rate rents for the building are expected to range from $2,325 for one-bedroom apartments to $3,500 for two-bedroom units. Rents on the affordable units will range from $954 for one-bedroom units to $1,194 for two-bedroom apartments.
Mayor Steven Fulop said of the difference between the market rate and affordable units, “These will be indistinguishable from each other.”
The project also envisions significant open space and street improvements.
The tower underway on Wednesday will be the first phase of a massive revamp of the 18-acre Metro Plaza shopping center, which currently includes a ShopRite, BJ’s Wholesale Club and Bed, Bath & Beyond. The street grid will include a park installed in the middle of the project.
The lead developer on the project is Forest City, a company that also built the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

A historic moment

The groundbreaking ceremony included dignitaries signing a beam as a celebration of the project going vertical.
“This is an historic moment, as construction takes off on the first significant onsite affordable housing development in downtown in more than three decades,” said Mayor Fulop. “As Jersey City continues to grow, we are leading the state not just in new construction, but also in the creation of affordable housing. This is the first of several projects that will incorporate our vision of providing quality, affordable housing for residents throughout the city and will serve as a model for how to build diverse, mixed-income communitie.”
The first two towers will likely have about 800 residential units. The first tower at 35 stories will include 336 market-rate units, 85 affordable units, 10,000 square feet of retail space, an accessory parking garage, and new street improvements surrounding the block, as well as a public plaza that includes more than 10,000 square feet of new open space. This is on a four-acre site just north of the Harsimus Cove light rail station.
“Forest City has a long and proud history of developing dynamic urban developments across the country,” said Naparstek. “We committed to Mayor Fulop to take the best of what we’ve learned from all of our projects and bring that to the Hudson Exchange redevelopment.”

Work started in November

The Pep Boys building, which closed last year, briefly became a focus of the city’s anti-graffiti program and was decorated for several months with work done by local artists. .
Demolition at the site and preliminary construction on the project began in November, with the first phase creating 350 full-time construction jobs and more than 15 full-time direct jobs.
“G&S Investors was an early participant in the revitalization of the Jersey City waterfront when it first developed its power center in 1993,” said Gregg Wasser, principal of G&S Investors, LLC. ”We are now excited to participate in the next phase of the Jersey City renaissance. It has been an honor and pleasure working with the City of Jersey City and the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency for the past two decades. We look forward to many more milestone events in the years to come.”
Hudson Exchange West represents the first large-scale plan for on-site affordable housing since Newport was constructed, city officials said. The current zoning allows for 5,000 units on the 18-acre site.
This project is Forest City’s first Jersey City development.
Construction on the first building is expected to be completed by the end of 2017.

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

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