Edwin Cohen, principal partner of the firm, said the Edison Village project — which represents what he called New Jersey's inland largest redevelopment project of its kind — was drafted in 2006 to convert the former Thomas Edison Invention Factory and Commerce Center into condominiums on 21 acres of land. However, after Prism began demolition and site work on the building in 2008, Cohen said, the firm was forced to cope with the financial crisis that struck the construction and real estate industries.
"The financing market for for-sale housing in general dried up for four years, and we couldn't borrow money for the project. So, we proposed to the township to change the project into apartments, and it took an additional two years for them to grant us the re-approvals to move forward on the new plan," Cohen said. "But even though that process stalled us a little longer, we now have an overall better project that will be completed in a shorter period of time than if we waited for for-sale construction loan financing to come about — which still hasn't come about."
With a construction loan and a financing agreement with the township that includes a payment in lieu of taxes agreement, Prism plans to break ground this spring 2013 on the first phase of the Edison Village project, which includes renovating and incorporating existing architectural features of Thomas Edison's former factory complex — such as 16-foot ceilings and 10-foot windows — into 331 apartment units ranging from 590 to 1,500 square feet, as well as constructing a 630-car parking garage and 18,000 square feet of retail space adjacent to the structure.
The second phase of the project will include more than 300 additional multifamily housing units online, Cohen said.
In addition to the West Orange project, Prism's involvement in the industrial-to-apartment niche also extends to Bloomfield, where it's in the midst of a $90 million redevelopment of a former General Electric Co. property.
Cohen said Prism continues to target unique opportunities like Edison Village and Bloomfield's Parkway Lofts because it views them as "a real business course" at a time when demand for apartments in the state's northern urban areas is extremely high and transit-centered land supply is low.
"It's much more difficult to renovate an industrial building than having a piece of ground and starting from scratch on a residential property, as the cost is much higher," Cohen said. "But New Jersey being as densely populated as it is, it does not afford many 'purely vacant land sites,' so you have to be creative this way, which also happens to be more in line with what's happening today anyway."
As the Edison Village project is part of the township's designated downtown redevelopment area, West Orange Mayor Robert Parisi said in a statement the industrial-to-residential transformation gives the township "the opportunity to create an exciting downtown in an area that has been neglected for too long."