It takes a certain kind of stomach to do what developers like Brian O'Neill do.
That is, acquire one of the most contaminated sites in the region at the onset of the financial crisis — all with the intent of building one of the largest mixed-use developments the state has ever seen.
But O’Neill believes “you make your best deals” when nobody else is looking to buy. And when it comes to this particular transformative project in Sayreville — which you most likely have heard of by now — there’s one other key thing he feels it has going for it.
“It’s the greatest intersection in the United States of America,” said O’Neill, founder and chairman of O’Neill Properties Group. “It’s the busiest, No. 1, and secondly, it’s in the New York metro market.”
Sitting under 24 lanes of traffic on the Garden State Parkway and Routes 9 and 35, some 400,000 cars pass the waterfront site each day. That’s perhaps been a constant reminder of what makes the project worthwhile ever since O’Neill’s firm took control of the highly contaminated, 450-acre former National Lead site in 2008, with plans of creating an 8 million-square-foot mega-complex known as Luxury Point.
After years of remediation that could end up costing around $45 million, real construction is now finally in sight. O’Neill said he expects to start raising steel within the next four months for the first retail portion, which will total 1 million square feet and include a Bass Pro Shops, a Regal Cinemas theater and a Century 21 department store.
He expects that portion to be delivered within 18 months, he said. That will give way to a sprawling mall that’s geared toward millennials, which means integrating 3-D digital imaging, allowing shoppers to interact with the space using their smartphones and having restaurants instead of food courts.
“Every competitor’s mall is an ancient prison,” O’Neill said. “And millennials want fully interactive, spectacular, digitally inspired shopping mecca.”
Meantime, the King of Prussia, Pennsylvania-based firm is finalizing design on 576 waterfront townhomes, for which it’s in discussions with national homebuilders. The developer is also working on designs for its first apartment building.
The project is moving forward after news last fall that the New Jersey Turnpike Authority will build new ramps on the Garden State Parkway that will connect to the development site. With O’Neill’s firm contributing $15 million to the highway construction, he said the access is critical.
“It’s extraordinary,” he said. “It’s the only shopping center in the marketplace that has its own personal four-way intersection on three major roads.”
Aside from working with the state, it’s also been a long haul working with Sayreville borough officials on one of the most high-profile development sites in the state.
You would think O’Neill has enough on its plate with Luxury Point, but the firm recently took on another project. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to go far for this one — the developer recently acquired the site of the soon-to-close Amboy Aggregates materials processing plant in nearby South Amboy.
And the project is nothing to sneeze at it — even in the shadow of Luxury Point. He said the site is entitled for up 1,825 residential units, part of a rail-connected, Raritan Bay waterfront property that local officials have long sought to redevelop with a ferry terminal.
The firm is calling it the Manhattan Beach Club.
“So a Manhattan renter, for $2 a foot — much less rent than they would pay in Manhattan — can have a free parking space, a beachfront apartment and a train and a ferry right outside their front door,” O’Neill said. “We love that part of New Jersey. We love the people in that part of New Jersey and we think it’s a highly untapped marketplace.”