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Developers address repurposing, rising sea levels at NJTPA forum

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(L to R) Michael McGuiness, NAIOP NJ CEO; Michael Meyer, director of development, Hugo Neu; Jared Rodriguez, assistant director of engery, LeFrak; Ben Delisle, director of development, JCRA; Pete Cocoziello, principal, Advance Realty; Michael Kerwin, president and CEO, SCBP, and Mary Kate Murphy executive director, NJTPA.
(L to R) Michael McGuiness, NAIOP NJ CEO; Michael Meyer, director of development, Hugo Neu; Jared Rodriguez, assistant director of engery, LeFrak; Ben Delisle, director of development, JCRA; Pete Cocoziello, principal, Advance Realty; Michael Kerwin, president and CEO, SCBP, and Mary Kate Murphy executive director, NJTPA. - ()

While developers Lefrak and Hugo Neu are no strangers to repurposing, being able to address rising sea levels seems to be a growing concern.

At the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority’s forum held Jan. 19, LeFak’s Assistant Director of Energy Jared Rodriguez and Director of Development Michael Meyer spoke of their experiences being a part of the Newport and Kearny Point redevelopments, respectively.

“[Storms] are obviously a constant source of fright,” Rodriguez said of Newport. “Sixty percent of the site was inundated during Sandy, including the PATH station. We had, in some of our lobbies, eight or nine feet of water. We even had issues related to wind damage that were reacting to live. We had to house our entire staff on the site for the duration of the event just to maintain some measure of operation. We generally had good power throughout the event.

“To this day we are still dealing with saltwater corrosion. We have issues with switchgear and have to deal with issues within our buildings probably due to saltwater corrosion. It’s all of the things that people in lower Manhattan are dealing with. We’re thinking about barriers, we’re thinking about raising critical equipment above flood level. And for new construction, we just opened a 44-level rental tower on a pier. We went ahead and increased the level of clean-fill on the site by an additional 12 feet to buy us some time.”

And the concern translates to actual risk of investment, too.

Since LeFrak was designated the master redeveloper of the 350-acre parcel that is now Newport, over $2.5 billion of private capital has been invested on the waterfront site and more than 40,000 permanent jobs have been created.  

LeFrak was the designated redeveloper following a bankruptcy settlement by the Pennsylvania Railroad in the late 1980s.

“If you want to be real about this issue, if we’re going to save this site over the next 100 years, we’re probably talking major amounts of fill,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t see any other way to preserve the site if we see 20 to 25 feet of sea level increase.”

Hugo Neu’s Meyer said the repurposing of the former shipyard in nearby Kearny, while having been planned for rising sea levels, may require some additional considerations.

“We’re obviously anticipating future sea level rise,” Meyer said. “We are also incorporating green infrastructure into the development, we’re making sure we retain storm water on the site and making sure it doesn’t contribute to additional contamination of the Hackensack and Passaic rivers.

“We will recapture the Hackensack River waterfront to make it a site amenity and to contribute to protection against sea level rise. We’re going to be bringing in close to 1 million cubic yards of fill to raise the exterior of the site.”

And as part of the green infrastructure implementation, the team hopes to secure Environmental Infrastructure Trust funding as well as Green Acres funding from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.  

Meyer said the development will leave most of the existing structures of the former shipyard in place and exploit it for the future changing sea levels.

“It is going to allow us to use the existing grate of these buildings, which is at about a 6-foot elevation. That grate will be used underneath the building for parking and the first finished floor will come up 16 feet, well above the anticipated FEMA flood limits”

Rodriguez and Meyer were joined by Pete Cocoziello Jr. of Advance Realty, who spoke of the repurposing of the old Sanofi-Aventis site – now the New Jersey Center of Excellence – and its potential for economic development.

Ben Delisle of the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency also spoke of the remediation and repurposing of a brownfield site that later became Berry Lane Park.

Michael McGuiness, CEO of NAIOP New Jersey, and Michael Kerwin, the president and CEO of the Somerset County Business Partnership, moderated the panel.

“We need to be thinking new,” NJPTA Executive Director Mary Kate Murphy said, “whether they are suburban malls, strip malls or manufacturing facilities. We need to be thinking about how we use these [properties] and how the economy and the global markets are changing. But, repurposing these properties does have a great potential for improving our economy, our environment and our quality of life. We can make these places productive again.

“We recognize that transportation plays a huge role in this process and we also recognize that it really depends on the smart decisions that are made about land use, that are made about housing, that are made about what happens at the local level and how it affects the regional economy.”

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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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