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Hackensack's grand plan starting to take shape City officials eye thriving central business district

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Eric Anderson, CEO of the Alexander Anderson Real Estate Group, in front of 150-170 Main St. in Hackensack, which will soon be redeveloped.
Eric Anderson, CEO of the Alexander Anderson Real Estate Group, in front of 150-170 Main St. in Hackensack, which will soon be redeveloped. - ()

David Troast is Hackensack's city manager, but he often has other towns on his mind.

That is, when it comes to the aspirations the city has for its own central business district.

“A good example would be Red Bank,” Troast said, pointing to the upscale retailers that help populate that borough's thriving downtown.

“Will we ever get there?” he asked. “It's a goal. If we get that, it's going to be awesome.”

Troast knows Hackensack has a long way to go, but stakeholders say it's finally on the right path. Nearly three years after local officials adopted a plan to rehabilitate the city's ailing downtown, those efforts are now starting to take shape in the onetime epicenter of Bergen County.

A case in point is the growing pipeline of multifamily residential development, which experts say is a prerequisite to attracting new commercial tenants. One project is nearing completion — a 222-unit development on State Street by Capodagli Property Co. — and Francis Reiner, the city's redevelopment consultant, said two other sites slated for more than 700 apartments are fully approved for construction.

That's not to mention another 200 units that have preliminary site plan approval and another 1,500 in various early planning stages, Reiner said. And several of those projects include commercial space — as required for sites fronting Main Street — giving developers the ability to attract new retailers to the city once new residents begin to populate the downtown.

“I think the progress has been at a faster pace than the city had hoped for,” said Reiner, a senior urban designer with DMR Architects in Hasbrouck Heights. And developers are continuing to show interest in identifying “opportunities in the downtown for mixed-use and residential projects,” he said.

Perhaps they're attracted to a city that's still a hub for activity, even though its days as a major shopping destination are long gone. City officials say its population of 43,000 grows more than threefold during the daytime, thanks to anchors such as Hackensack University Medical Center, Bergen County Community College and the activity tied to the county courthouse and administrative offices.

It's well-connected, too, with two rail stations, a bus terminal and proximity to highways such as Interstate 80 and Route 4.

So experts say city officials simply unlocked that demand in 2012, when they overhauled the planning guidelines for the 160-acre district surrounding Main Street. The overhaul included zoning changes to accommodate new mixed-use development, new height allowances and relaxed parking guidelines, part of an effort led by the business group known as the Hackensack Upper Main Alliance.

“It wasn't really cost-effective for developers to come in,” said Eric Anderson, CEO of Alexander Anderson Real Estate and a member of the business group. “So that zoning change helped spur interest for looking into Hackensack.”

Once that happened, he said, the Hackensack-based firm realized “there was nothing to sell them, so we had to recognize that and then actually go out and try to put sites together.”

Assembling and brokering the sale of development sites has since become an important service for Anderson in Hackensack, leading to projects such as the planned 14-story, 382-unit high-rise at 150 Main St. The 1.5-acre parcel consists of one parking lot and seven buildings, which city officials say are slated for demolition in the next three months ahead of construction by Edison-based Alkova Cos.

That's not to say the city's work is done. Local officials still need to convert Main Street, State Street and several perpendicular roads to two-way traffic, reversing what has long been a bizarre configuration for a central business district. Reiner said the city expects to have engineering drawings for that project by late spring or early summer, “and then they'll have to make a decision about timing in terms of when to do that.”

Troast, the city manager, said planners are also focused on ensuring adequate parking in the downtown, which they hope to address through requirements in the overhauled development guidelines.

In the meantime, civic leaders are taking another key step for reinventing the city: moving “from a retail-based economy on Main Street more toward a service-oriented and experienced-based downtown,” said Albert Dib, executive director of the Upper Main Alliance. An important piece of that is the Atlantic Street Park, which broke ground in November and will replace an underutilized city parking lot with a small amphitheater and other amenities.

Dib said the $617,000 project is years in the making and “bridges the gap” between Main Street and a planned cultural arts center. The organization is now convening consultants, government agencies and local organizations to help develop an arts scene in Hackensack, as it raises money to help complete the performance venue.

“This truly has to become a destination downtown — and arts and culture, I think, is a big part of that,” Dib said. “Between the indoor space and the outdoor park, and some of the other creative place-making undertakings that will occur in and around that performing arts center, we will establish enough critical mass to attract people to that area, and really to the downtown as a whole.”

Troast, the city manager, said planners are also focused on ensuring adequate parking in the downtown, which they hope to address through requirements in the overhauled development guidelines.

In the meantime, civic leaders are taking another key step for reinventing the city: moving “from a retail-based economy on Main Street more toward a service-oriented and experienced-based downtown,” said Albert Dib, executive director of the Upper Main Alliance. An important piece of that is the Atlantic Street Park, which broke ground in November and will replace an underutilized city parking lot with a small amphitheater and other amenities.

Dib said the $617,000 project is years in the making and “bridges the gap” between Main Street and a planned cultural arts center. The organization is now convening consultants, government agencies and local organizations to help develop an arts scene in Hackensack, as it raises money to help complete the performance venue.

“This truly has to become a destination downtown — and arts and culture, I think, is a big part of that,” Dib said. “Between the indoor space and the outdoor park, and some of the other creative place-making undertakings that will occur in and around that performing arts center, we will establish enough critical mass to attract people to that area, and really to the downtown as a whole.”

In the pipeline

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The city’s first major residential project, dubbed Meridia Metro Hackensack, at right, is well underway at 94 State St. The six-story, 222-unit property is slated to be complete by the spring. Here’s a look at downtown Hackensack’s other upcoming projects:

150-170 Main St.
Alcova Cos., based in Edison, has been approved for a 14-story building with 382 apartments, 7,450 square feet of retail space at what is now an assemblage of eight properties, plus 382 on-site parking spaces.

210-214 Main St. & 210 Moore St.
Heritage Capital Group LLC has approval to gut and rehabilitate the former 10-story United Jersey Bank building and an adjacent four-story office building. The project calls for two phases, including a first phase approved for 120 units and second phase with 150 units and 7,500 square feet of retail space. The plan also includes 235 existing on-site parking spaces.

Hackensack also has nearly 2,000 units in various stages of the planning and entitlement process. Meantime, city officials also are investigating the former headquarters site of The Record and North Jersey Media Group on River Street, in order to determine whether it meets the criteria for an official “area in need of redevelopment” designation.

SOURCE: City of Hackensack

Big-time support

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So what does Hackensack’s largest employer think about the transformation effort?

“It’s really exciting,” said Robert C. Garrett, CEO and president of Hackensack University Health System. “Hackensack could be another New Brunswick, another Morristown. There’s no reason why it can’t be or shouldn’t be.”

He’s so excited by the potential that the health system is working to bring officials from those towns together with leaders in Hackensack.

“Why reinvent the wheel?” Garrett said. “Let’s talk to the folks who have gotten it done.”

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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. Email him at joshb@njbiz.com.

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