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Glory days restored: Developers, officials hope to return Bergen County city of Hackensack to past success through mixed-use projects

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Members of the Hackensack Main Street Alliance, from left, city liaison Albert Dib, Jerry Lombardo, consultant Francis Reiner and Eric Anderson, in front of 210 Main St. in Hackensack, which is being redeveloped by Heritage Capital Group.
Members of the Hackensack Main Street Alliance, from left, city liaison Albert Dib, Jerry Lombardo, consultant Francis Reiner and Eric Anderson, in front of 210 Main St. in Hackensack, which is being redeveloped by Heritage Capital Group. - ()

For Heritage Capital Principal Jeff Greenberg, being a part of revitalization of downtown Hackensack combines the opportunity of a market ready to boom and the history of the city.

“We see Hackensack as one of the last towns in Bergen County to be ready for the next stage of development and gentrification,” he said. “We see Hackensack like Englewood was 20 years ago.”

At 210 and 214 Main St., in the heart of downtown Hackensack, Heritage Capital has embarked on an adaptive reuse of a bank building into luxury residential units. Greenberg said the $38 million project and its location near mass transit will attract people of all ages and become a part of a vibrant downtown.

“We work on a lot of old buildings, nothing quite as old as this, but we do enjoy bringing old projects back to life,” he said. “More than that, we enjoy being in old cities and helping them come back with a new life.”

With a spirit, Greenberg added, that Hackensack has had before.

“I remember what Hackensack used to be like,” he said. “Hackensack was the shopping capital of the county. Everyone came right to Main Street, and they went to the Fox Theater and they went to all the different stores here. All the malls and all the highways were not quite there yet when I was growing up.”

Upon completion, Heritage Capital will add 127 units to Main Street in Hackensack. The firm’s project will include valet parking, an outdoor lounge and fitness center, to name a few amenities. And, as part of the Main Street redevelopment, Greenberg’s firm will deliver nearly 5,000 square feet of retail spread across the two buildings.

Both Greenberg and Heritage Capital also feel like they are investing in something bigger.

Since 2012, the Hackensack Main Street Alliance has made strides to create a vibrant 24-hour city, attract developers and investors, and develop a unique architectural style. Heritage Capital is a recipient of a 25-year PILOT agreement.

“This is not just about my project,” Greenberg said. “This is about why everybody else is doing these projects, and I don’t view them as competition. We all need each other because what we all bring is critical mass together to live downtown. By doing that, that helps all of us.

“I really think it’s about adaptive reuse, it’s about a Brooklyn feel and it’s about bringing in all these other projects. It’s not just about this one project, although we’re leading it off.”

Manhattan-based leasing agents the Marketing Directors have been selected to manage leasing.

Heritage Capital is most active in North Carolina, particularly in Charlotte, Raleigh and Wilmington, Greenberg said. The firm owns and operates about 1 million square feet of office space in New Jersey and the Carolinas, and half a million square feet of industrial space in New Jersey.

Greenberg said Heritage would like to pursue more opportunities in Hackensack, if the economics pan out.

“The next development opportunity is (210 Moore St.),” he said. “We have another opportunity to build here. I’m excited to see what is going to happen in the next stage of Hackensack’s revitalization.

“With all these projects and units coming online, it’s going to be exciting. I’d love to do another project in Hackensack. I want to get this one launched and then we’ll figure out what’s next.”

•••

Hackensack’s work with the Main Street Alliance has allowed for most of the downtown to be designated as an area in need of redevelopment. This has attracted developers since 2012. And the organization’s leadership said it hopes to add over 3,000 residential units to the city within the next decade.

Jerry Lombardo, chairman of the alliance, said the opportunity to redevelop Hackensack was the result of outdated zoning, a new desire for people to live downtown and the city’s proximity to New York City.

“If you’ve been to Hoboken or Red Bank or Morristown, a lot of these places that have redeveloped have a lot of people living in the downtown,” he said. “Our zoning, at the time, did not allow for any. You weren’t allowed to do any mixed-use.”

That needed to change, Lombardo said.

“We hired our own professionals to come talk to the city council and say, ‘Look, we have a great location at Hackensack; we have the county seat, we have the county court system here in Hackensack, we have a tremendous location close to New York, highways, train station, we have everything, but what we don’t have is the zoning,’” he said.

“We spent a couple years convincing them. We took them to places and put on almost a full PowerPoint show to show them what other downtowns have done and show them how that zoning has brought in residential development on top of retail.”

Francis Reiner, city planner for DMR Architects and one of the principal consultants for the alliance, said the next move was to make the city attractive for developers.

“In 2012, the city adopted what is known as the ‘Downtown Redevelopment Rehabilitation Plan,’ which changed the zoning for 163 acres,” Reiner said. “From the courthouse past Sears, from State Street to River Street. It basically increased the development rights, it mandated mixed-use development on Main Street, it streamlined the submittal, review and approval process, and it created the impetus for private developers to start looking at Hackensack as a viable option for investing into this type of downtown.”

Albert Dib, director of redevelopment for the city, said the first projects to come online, George Capodagli’s Meridia Metro at 100 State St. and Heritage Capital’s project at 210 and 214 Main St., combined with the city’s push for a new performing arts center, were two catalysts for developers.

“When you’re a developer and you’re doing a project and you’re trying to figure out if something is going to last out, you’re saying, ‘How can I attract and retain tenants? Why are these people going to come to this community? Why are these people not going to come to this community?’

“We did a SWOT Report — strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. One of our weaknesses was a lack of entertainment opportunities. We already had an active and vibrant cultural arts department within the city that was doing great performances with local theater talent and local musicians. We said, ‘Let’s double down on that, let’s take advantage of this existing creative infrastructure.’

“We saw this old Masonic Temple that was for sale, and Eric Anderson (of the alliance) was one of the people who said, ‘Let’s buy this cultural arts center. It’s close enough to Main Street and we can really attract people from Main Street to come to it.’”

The city’s work seems to be headed in the right direction, according to Reiner. So far, 222 units at Meridia Metro have been completed. The city has 881 units under construction, 510 units with site plan approval and over 1,500 in various planning stages.

Reiner said the city also is about to invest up to $5 million to turn Main Street and State Street from one-way roads back into two-way streets.

“The city is already bonded for converting State Street and Main Street back to two-ways,” he said. “A year from today, State Street and Main Street will go back to two-way streets, which is huge. We have to deal with every light and intersection from an ADA standpoint; you have to make sure all ramps are up to ADA code. We have to deal with converting the lights from one-way system to a two-way system.

“We’re dealing with the train tracks, too. We’re changing all the meters out on Main Street, in terms of allowing cars to park on Main Street. There will still be parallel parking on both sides, but we’ve designed some ways to make it function better. We’re taking the buses off of Main Street between Essex and Passaic streets. We’re working with NJ Transit to do that.”

•••

Hackensack recently approved a joint-venture between Hornrock Properties and Russo Development for a $90 million project to build 377 residences and 3,000 square foot of retail at “Lot C” between East Salem Street Extension, Midtown Bridge Approach and Midtown Place.

Like the members of the Main Street Alliance, and Heritage Capital’s Greenberg, Hornrock Principal Maurice Hornblass said revitalizing is personal.

One of his goals is to help the city combine crucial transportation assets.

“We’re based out of Park Ridge, we’re a family-run business,” Hornblass said. “My partners and I, we all live in Bergen County. We’ve grown up very close by to Hackensack and we’ve seen how it’s been sleepy for so many years. And it’s always had the right infrastructure. You have the train, the bus system. You’re wedged between four highways: (Interstate) 80, you’re close by Route 17, Garden State Parkway.

“You have all the infrastructure you need for a great city, but over the years it just never really took off.”

Hornblass said his opportunity for a joint venture with Russo Development spawned out of both Hornrock and Russo’s work in Harrison, when Hornblass met Russo CEO Edward Russo.

“With the lead of Mayor (John) Labrosse, who’s really taken a proactive approach, it has really allowed developers to come in and potentially create a great city,” Hornblass said. “... It will really dust off the bones that are there. The downtown could be a great downtown, it already has a lot of great retail, the strips are very nice there. Once there’s enough residents who actually live there, (the retail corridor) will become vibrant.”

The people, Hornblass said, are there.

“It’s interesting to note, there are about 43,000 residents in the city of Hackensack and there are about 100,000 people who go there daily,” he said. “So, you have a huge influx of people coming into Hackensack who aren’t living there, and part of that disproportion is that there just has not been any modernized living.”

Hornrock and Russo’s project will include 200 public parking spaces, a public park and community amenities.

•••

In total, Hackensack expects 140,000 square feet of retail space as part of an investment expected to yield over $1 billion in real estate value.

Another developer, Fourth Edition, said it is currently finalizing agreements with Hampshire and Russo at the former Record property. Fourth Edition President Stephen Borg said he and his firm look forward to becoming a part of the revitalization of the city.

“The first phase will include 267 residential units breaking ground in the second half of 2018,” Fourth Edition said. “Separately, the company is also working with Hampshire in a venture on the retail pads, which may possibly include a hotel, on other parts of the property along River and Bridge streets.”

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Mario Marroquin

Mario Marroquin


Mario Marroquin covers real estate. A native of El Salvador, Mario is bilingual in English and Spanish. He graduated from Penn State University and worked in Pennsylvania before moving to New Jersey. His email is mariom@njbiz.com.

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