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Fort Lee, developers reach agreement on Centuria site

By - Last modified: April 18, 2011 at 6:13 PM

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A rendering of the Hudson Lights development. (Courtesy Tucker Development Corp.)
A rendering of the Hudson Lights development. (Courtesy Tucker Development Corp.)

The borough of Fort Lee and two developers announced late Thursday they had reached a settlement agreement on the redevelopment of a 16-acre parcel that most recently was the site of the aborted Centuria project.

The property — located next to the George Washington Bridge — has been vacant for more than 40 years, and has seen three failed redevelopment attempts since the 1970s. The most recent was Centuria, a $1 billion mixed-use development Town & Country Developers had proposed building before running into financing troubles that ultimately led the borough to pull the plug on the project.

Under the newest agreement, Highland Park, Ill.-based Tucker Development Corp. has been designated as the redeveloper of the west parcel of the site, where it will build Hudson Lights, a mixed-used development that will encompass at least 165,000 square feet of ground-level retail, up to 475 residential units, and possible hotel and office buildings.

Fort Lee Redevelopment Associates — comprised of Parsippany-based SJP Residential Properties, Bergen County attorney James Demetrakis and a private equity fund managed by Palisades Financial — will redevelop the east parcel with the construction of two residential towers, each comprising 450 units, along with a 1.75-acre public park with a 7,000-square-foot restaurant and a coffee house.

FLRA also has agreed to build and donate to the borough an 11,000-square-foot space for a three-screen movie theater, as well as a 2,000-square-foot public space for a potential museum.

“It’s been a long and arduous process” that began about nine months ago, when Tucker, which owned the west parcel, sued the borough for designating FLRA as the new redeveloper of the entire property, said Mayor Mark Sokolich.

The lawsuit was followed by a two-to-three month period where “people were posturing, legally,” and various motions were filed, including one by the borough to dismiss the litigation, Sokolich said.

“Then, when tempers cooled, we started meaningful negotiations” about five to six months ago, he said.

The borough had not selected Tucker initially because of its request for a financial subsidy for its project, either in the form of redevelopment bonds, a tax abatement or a payment-in-lieu-of taxes arrangement, Sokolich said.

Under the agreement, Tucker has agreed not to take a subsidy, while FLRA, which originally planned to construct a park, along with retail and office space, on the west parcel, has now moved the park’s location to the east parcel, Sokolich said.

“With any negotiation process, there’s give-and-take,” said Richard H. Tucker, president and CEO of Tucker. “But at the end of the day, we feel we’ve created a win-win for everybody.”

Hudson Lights will involve the construction of a new road, called Hudson Street, which will run through the middle of the west parcel and create pedestrian-friendly retail, including at least three sit-down restaurants of at least 4,000 square feet each.

“It’s going to be more of a contiguous shopping center,” as opposed to separate retail buildings — the case in much of downtown Fort Lee, he said.

The settlement agreement is “the first and biggest milestone” in proceeding with the redevelopment of the site, Sokolich said. It will be followed by the drafting of a redevelopment agreement over the next several months, and the amendment of the borough’s ordinances, master plan and redevelopment zones to accommodate the new projects, he said.

Meanwhile, the developers will be preparing plans to present to the local planning board, with the borough expecting to hold public hearings on both projects early next year, he said. Construction could begin by the spring or summer of 2012, according to the mayor.

E-mail Evelyn Lee at elee@njbiz.com

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