Edward Ayuso took control of the former Beifus Mercedes site in South Orange only two years ago, but he had taken notice of it long before that.
As a developer based in the Essex County village, he watched as weeds grew on the empty, half-acre lot that was steps from the downtown train station, but housed nothing more than a wooden fence on its perimeter.
“You know you have prime real estate,” said Ayuso, principal of EEA Industries LLC.
“For a developer, it was very frustrating to see a great site sit dormant for so long.”
The angst felt by Ayuso has long been shared with village officials and businesses around the West South Orange Avenue site, following the demolition of the dealership in 2003 and financial woes that plagued its prior owner. But they’re now hoping to move beyond its frustrating history: Ayuso’s firm and SWH Residential Partners gathered with local leaders today to break ground on a 57-unit luxury rental project at the property.
Ayuso said he plans to open the building, known as the Gateway, within 14 months, with hopes of tapping into the growing demand for transit-minded and downtown living among renters. The property also will have about 9,000 square feet of retail, which he said already has generated interest; on-site parking; and virtual concierge space.
After acquiring the land from its lender in 2011, Ayuso said village officials “knew it was all hands on deck” to help finish a site that had been slated for redevelopment for more than a decade. He said his EEA Industries and its partners have a vested interest in the municipality, having its headquarters there and ownership of two other properties nearby.
“It’s one of the last desirable sites in the village,” Ayuso said. “Everyone’s wanted to develop on it. No one really stepped up and was able to get it to that point.”