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Developer sees Jersey City apartment project as catalyst for Journal Square neighborhood

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Matt Weinreich and local officials will gather Wednesday to cut the ribbon on Kennedy Lofts.
Matt Weinreich and local officials will gather Wednesday to cut the ribbon on Kennedy Lofts. - (AARON HOUSTON)

Matt Weinreich saw an opportunity when he first toured the eight-story building for sale at 100 Newkirk St. in Jersey City. Not as an office building — as it had been for decades while it housed the Hudson County Division of Social Services — but as a space that would bring a new type of multifamily offering to the city's Journal Square section.

But in a gritty neighborhood, convincing others was a different story.

“Three years ago, when I brought my first investors, they really had to demonstrate a little bit of faith,” Weinreich said. “I think that I bring those same investors here now … and … people look around and they say, ‘OK, I get the story.’ ”

What has changed since then? There are signs of new construction in the surrounding blocks, with a pipeline of other high-profile projects in the works for Journal Square. And Weinreich’s development firm, Hopkins Group LLC, has all but completed its conversion of 100 Newkirk St. to a 56-unit apartment building.

Weinreich and local officials will gather Wednesday to cut the ribbon on what’s known as Kennedy Lofts, a tribute to its days as the John F. Kennedy Office Building. So it won’t be long before it’s open for business with units that he said stack up with the luxury rentals on Jersey City’s waterfront — but with lower rents, thanks in part to the cost savings that come from converting an existing building.

And it’s only one extra stop away on the PATH train.

The Kennedy Lofts

The building is also the first new major project to open in Journal Square, a welcome addition for a Steven Fulop administration that has been vocal about supporting development beyond downtown Jersey City. Weinreich knows this, and he makes it clear that he’s trying to bring “the same kind of clientele that exists downtown.”

“If we do this project the right way, and our rents are lower than they are on the waterfront, we can incentivize people to stay on the PATH four more minutes and come to Journal Square,” said Weinreich, principal of the New York-based firm. “That was the concept, and we believe that if we build it in such a way that it’s a high-quality project, then people will come.”

He expects Kennedy Lofts to be ready for occupancy by Sept. 1, and the site was buzzing Monday as construction workers worked on finishing touches such as landscaping and common areas. When complete, the building will include amenities such as a roof terrace, a fitness center, a tenant lounge and storage space.

Inside, the abundance of windows and the high ceilings that remain from the office building create an airy feel with views of the downtown Jersey City and Manhattan skylines. There is construction across the street at what could be another apartment building, and developers such as Kushner Real Estate Group and KABR Group have big plans for other mixed-use projects around the Journal Square PATH station.

Weinreich, who spent a decade with the international developer Hines, said investors and lenders were skeptical early on. And he concedes newcomers might have concerns about security in an area that has more of an inner-city feel than the trendy waterfront, especially after a recent string of high-profile crime in Jersey City.

But he believes that “this neighborhood in general is pretty safe.” And he said having Hudson County Community College as a neighbor to Kennedy Lofts adds an extra layer of protection. The college has private security patrols that are constantly roving the area, in addition to Jersey City police.

“They surround us, their buildings are all over the place,” Weinreich said. “And they are totally focused on safety and security.”

Hopkins Group is now preparing to start on another conversion project in the city. He couldn’t offer more details for now, but said it’s in Journal Square — where he’s setting up for the long haul.

“I’m a believer in the location,” Weinreich said.

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Joshua Burd

Joshua Burd

Josh Burd covers real estate, economic development and sports and entertainment. Before joining NJBIZ in 2011, he spent four years as a metro reporter in Central Jersey. His email is joshb@njbiz.com and he is @JoshBurdNJ on Twitter.

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