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Developer's key to success: Ensuring project fits in with Jersey City surroundings

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A rendering of the planned Hudson Exchange West redevelopment project in Jersey City.
A rendering of the planned Hudson Exchange West redevelopment project in Jersey City. - ()

There's no lack of appeal for the site that will be known as Hudson Exchange West, an 18-acre tract in downtown Jersey City that's bordered by three of its most sought-after neighborhoods.

But Abe Naparstek knows that location can be a challenge as much as will be an asset.

“We’ve done a lot of interesting things around the country with how you mix uses and build a master-planned community, but make it feel like the fabric of the existing community around it,” said Naparstek, an executive with Forest City Residential. “And that’s a hard thing to do — we don’t want to just plop down a new project that isn’t integrated into the neighborhoods that surround (it).”

It’s why he feels a “fresh perspective” will be key to the success of the mixed-use plan, which calls for more than 6 million square of development over 20 years. It’s the first major redevelopment project in the state for Forest City, Naparstek said, “so we’re really trying to take the best of what we’ve learned from around the country and bring that to Jersey City.”

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The Cleveland-based developer, known locally for the Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn, now plans to break ground by late August or early September on the first piece of Hudson Exchange West. The initial $223 million project calls for a 421-unit, 35-story residential tower and about 10,000 square feet of retail and park space — with completion slated for summer 2017.

The redevelopment area, which occupies the site of a Pep Boys, sits just between Marin Boulevard and Washington Street and just north of Second Street. Just two blocks from the Hudson riverfront, Naparstek noted, the site abuts the city’s Newport section while sitting between the Powerhouse Arts District and the Hamilton Square neighborhood.

The first phase will kick off what ultimately calls for up to 12 residential towers over two decades, though Naparstek said “it’s hard to predict what will happen with the market over the next 20 years.” That’s why Forest City and its partner, G&S Investors, have a plan that allows it to keep its options open.

“We have a lot of flexibility in our zoning, so you could see more office perk up in this market, you could see hotels, for-sale condominiums,” said Naparstek, a senior vice president with Forest City Residential. “But right now the plan is to really focus on apartments and retail. So that’s where we’re headed right now.

A rendering of a Hudson Exchange West tower.
A rendering of a Hudson Exchange West tower. - ()

Phase one also calls for 20 percent of the units to be set aside for low- and moderate-income renters, which Naparstek said will tap into an unmet demand in Jersey City, just as the firm has done with projects in other markets. He also noted that “it’s the right thing to do” to include the 85 affordable units and helps satisfy a main public policy goal of Mayor Steven Fulop.

Indeed, Fulop earlier this month hailed the project as “a model for how to build market-rate and affordable housing in cities like Jersey City and around the country.”

“We couldn’t be more excited about this project moving forward, as this will be the first significant onsite affordable housing development in downtown in decades,” Fulop said in a prepared statement. “As we continue to develop and expand Jersey City, we also want to bring diversity to every single community, which means a mix of age, race, religion, economics and of corporate and residential development.  This is the first of several projects that will incorporate our vision of providing opportunity for all residents.”

Fulop’s statement came June 9 after the project was approved for a $40 million tax credit under the state’s Economic Redevelopment and Growth program. Naparstek said the award was “a huge, integral part of the financing package” that’s helping move the project forward.

The most recent vision for the redevelopment area, near the Harsimus Cove light rail station, is an updated version of a plan that had been discussed for decades. The original plan included 16 towers spread out among six large lots, only accommodating retail while not allowing for much green space and not being accessible to outside communities.

But after becoming involved in the project in 2012 and undertaking a community input process, Forest City has “made some changes to the plan to what we think improves upon it,” Naparstek said. Specifically, the new version calls for “breaking down the large-scale super blocks into smaller blocks and making sure the street grid is reconnected through the site so you have a more pedestrian, human-scale streetscape and ensure that retail lines the park.”

The update didn’t sacrifice any density, he said, while creating a plan that ultimately will blend well with the surrounding neighborhoods.

“Over time, as we’re able to start to develop a number of the phases here, we think there’s a great opportunity to integrate amazing public park space adjacent to the dense urban development,” Naparstek said. “And that’s a hard thing to do and we’re open to the challenge and looking forward to it.”

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