Developers look to revitalize section of East Orange
A series of multifamily rehabilitation projects are coming of age along South Harrison Street, in East Orange, in an effort that developers hope can revitalize a section of the Essex County city.
One of the builders, TreeTop Development, has spent two years renovating seven rental buildings housing nearly 550 units on the street. Principal Adam Mermelstein said the firm had made major upgrades but kept the units affordable, allowing it to bring up the occupancy of the portfolio from 60 percent to 98 percent.
"We're not going over the top with luxury, but we're really trying to kind of make it for the masses," he said. "And especially in this economy, we feel that in these transitional areas, there are more people that are looking to upgrade or at least stay within that range."
The Newark-based company embarked on a $5 million capital improvement program after buying the properties out of foreclosure, Mermelstein said. The firm has since upgraded the exteriors and common areas, while renovating more than 300 units with affordable materials like Formica and ceramic tile, rather than granite and marble.
In a separate project, the firm has renovated and is marketing an eighth building in the area, at 106 S. Harrison St. Occupancy at the 120-unit property has jumped from about 38 to 60 percent since TreeTop took over, he said.
South Harrison Street also has attracted several other developers, he said. Laferrara Properties LLC has completed two similar rehabilitation projects for market-rate housing on the street. And two other firms, Gaia Real Estate and Blackstone 360, have developed two luxury rental buildings on the street, which is on the western side of the city.
Mermelstein, whose firm also does similar work in Newark, said the developers are sharing the benefits of restoring the neighborhood, even without making a concerted effort to work together.
"It's funny. We haven't really had a joint dialogue or a formal one," Mermelstein said. "I think each one of us is sort of building on the next, but not in a formal sense."
The next step will be to bring in new commercial development to the area, he said. He added, "I don't think that we've really seen it pop like we have with the residential, (but) I do expect to see it" in the coming years