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Hoping for fall construction start on ambitious, long-delayed Sayreville project

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After five years of complex environmental cleanup, the developer planning to build a 450-acre “fortress mall” and mixed-use project at a former paint manufacturing site in Sayreville hopes to start construction this fall, a company executive said today.

The developer, O’Neill Properties, plans to spend the next 12 to 24 months finishing remediation of a major piece of the property and leasing its first set of retail spaces, said J. Brian O’Neill Jr., a vice president with the King of Prussia, Pa.-based firm. The company also aims during that time to build a 200,000-square-foot store for Bass Pro Shops, a Regal Cinemas theater and other anchor tenants, he said, giving way to a grand opening.

“Development is picking up,” O’Neill said. “We’re feeling good about the future of this site. Now we just have to get out of the remediation and predevelopment phase and actually get into getting steel in the air, which we hope to be doing this fall.”

O’Neill was one of three real estate executives who spoke today at an event hosted by the Commerce & Industry Association of New Jersey. The meeting, aimed at giving members a glimpse at high-profile development projects in New Jersey, also featured updates on projects in northern New Jersey by Tucker Development Corp. and efforts to revitalize downtown Hackensack.

Real estate insiders have closely watched O’Neill’s project, known as Luxury Point at Sayreville, since the firm was selected as redeveloper in 2007. The firm’s plan calls for 8 million square feet of mixed-use development along one of the widest, busiest stretches of the Garden State Parkway along the Raritan Bay, anchored by a retail “fortress mall” that would feature Times Square-like electronic billboards and signage.

O’Neill said the area has unmatched access and visibility, with 400,000 drivers passing by daily. But the site, a former National Lead paint pigment manufacturing facility, has been caught in a web of litigation involving the company, the borough and county, and state authorities.

The site also has required a massive environmental cleanup to address years of dumping chemicals and other waste that contaminated the ground, along with coordination with 20 government agencies and more than 100 approvals. O’Neill said in recent years, the cost of remediation has ballooned to $44 million from an initial estimate of $5 million.

“As we’ve discovered a lot of these things when we started poking holes in the ground, we realized that were going to have make some changes to not only our plan — our cost structure had to change, and then we had to look at alternative ways to get economic benefit out of the site,” he said.

But O’Neill said he was pleased with the remediation effort and the progress of the project.

“Everyone in New Jersey always drives over that bridge and says, ‘You know, is anything ever going to happen with that site?’ ” he said. “And a lot of people forget … there’s a lot going on behind the scenes that you have to get done before could even put the first shovel in the ground get steel up in the air.”

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