Condo projects into rentals

If it can happen in everyone’s redevelopment mentor city of Hoboken, it can happen in Rahway. It looks like two projects originally planned as for-sale condos will become rentals.
The developer of Station Place has started to look at a plan for 116 rental units instead of 80 condos for the five-story project on a 1.6-acre site on Campbell Street. “Because of what happened in the economy in general, and the financial sector specifically, condos are very difficult to finance,” Clay Bonny of Heartstone Development said at last week’s Redevelopment Agency meeting. “Apartments are very easy to finance.” No major lenders are getting into condo construction, he said, so to keep the project moving, they decided to examine rentals instead.
A recent Wall Street Journal story pretty much confirmed the lending situation, for both consumer and businesses: “Banks continue to get more restrictive in their real-estate lending as the housing bust adds to their losses.”
Heartstone received Planning Board approval in March 2007 (.pdf) for 80 units, so it would have to get approval again for the increased density. Zoning currently allows for 60 units per acre.
The current occupant, A&M Industrial Supply, is under contract to be relocated to Edison, said Bonny. Some minor environmental issues on the property have to be cleared up, he added, so an extension on the closing has been requested through September.
Heartstone’s other project in Rahway, the 135 rentals at River Place, is 100 percent fully occupied for the first time since it opened in 2004, Bonny said.
Renaissance at Rahway was to be a 72-unit condo project on property encompassing the former Triangle Inn. Renaissance has five of the eight necessary parcels under contract so rather than go through what could be a two-year condemnation battle, developers will move forward with 64 rental units as part of a first phase. The second phase could include the remaining units if the properties are eventually acquired, said Joseph Ranieri, an attorney with Weiner Lesniak representing Renaissance. “This project works better under these economic conditions,” he said, adding that it’s not certain they can get financing for the whole thing.
The five-story project, which would include parking on the ground floor, would eliminate and be built on top of a short stretch of Montgomery Street between East Grand Avenue and Monroe Street.
Renaissance has been unable to acquire Block 379, Lots 1, 5 and 8. City Administrator and Redevelopment Director Peter Pelissier said the owners of Lots 1 and 8 are not interested in selling at all. An unacceptable counteroffer was received from the owner of Lot 5, he said, which bifurcates the whole project, so if it sells in the future, it could be added. It’s unclear how many more units could be built with Lot 5 part of the project, Pelissier said. “That’s the economic dilemma,” he said, the land costs versus the number of units that could be built; do you overpay for those or go through a costly, unfriendly sale?

Hotel to open June 16

Hotel Indigo at Sky View is scheduled to open June 16 and begin taking reservations starting July 15, City Administrator/Redevelopment Director Peter Pelissier said at Wednesday night’s Redevelopment Agency meeting.

Construction for the Irving-Fulton streets realignment will be completed the first week of June, with temporary paving in place for May 17’s Hot Rods and Harleys event, he said. Milling and resurfacing will take place the second week of June.

Planned retail for the hotel building includes a coffee shop, dry cleaners, fitness center and restaurant.

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Interesting story in Wednesday’s Star-Ledger about the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, not for the $15,000 Springsteen tickets necessarily, but as the story put it: “The Basie’s success is especially noteworthy because many performing arts centers are struggling with declines in attendance and dramatic changes in ticket-buying patterns.” The theatre is not unlike our own Union County Performing Arts Center in terms of size and age, and both have undergone recent renovations.

Perhaps the UCPAC can adapt some lessons from Count Basie, as well as other venues, like Paper Mill Playhouse, which tried to be daring but it didn’t work out as well. It’s not uncommon for art centers to lose money, and UCPAC is no exception, but now it’s taxpayers who own it after the $6.2-million renovation and acquisition. The center also was featured in the Ledger this week, mainly for its new air conditioning, which will allow summer events.

Town Center could come in phases

Three developers are interested in the Town Center redevelopment plan and have approached the city about doing the project in phases, City Administrator and Redevelopment Director Peter Pelissier said at Wednesday night’s Redevelopment Agency meeting.

Continue reading Town Center could come in phases

Gimme an I-G-O


On our way to check out Saturday’s block party on East Cherry Street, my eagle-eyed girlfriend Kathleen spotted some lettering near the roof of the Hotel Indigo at Sky View. There was no sign of the letters Tuesday night on my way to a City Council meeting.

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On Friday night, my friend Vince and I were at Luciano’s for a few drinks. The Alice Project entertained the bar/lounge, which was pretty crowded when we arrived around 9:30 but cleared out by 10:30. The Alice Project has played Luciano’s before but their one-of-a-kind cover of “Video Killed The Radio Star” was unique enough for me to take a chance on their latest album. Their sound reminded me a little of Sheryl Crow or more precisely, (and more obscure), Marry Me Jane. I would definitely check them out next time they’re around.

I’ll be catching up on some posts the rest of this week, so be sure to check back.

Senior housing at St. Mary’s moves forward

City Council introduced an ordinance last month to create a Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT), the first step for a four-story, 50-unit affordable senior housing facility adjacent to St. Mary’s along Esterbrook Avenue, just in from Central Avenue. A public hearing and final adoption of the PILOT is scheduled at the council’s regular meeting on May 12.

Representatives from Domus Corporation, affiliated with Catholic Charities of the Newark Archdiocese, came before the governing body in December with their plan. The existing structure, (photo left), the former convent building, would be demolished and the new facilty would extend slightly into the existing parking lot.

Once City Council approves the PILOT, Catholic Charities will need approval from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which would finance the project, before even going to the Planning Board. There was some concern among council members after the December presentation about parking and the size of the new structure which is expected to be addressed when the project ultimately comes before the Planning Board.

The 40-year PILOT, which must coincide with the duration of financing, would pay the city 15 percent of net proceeds. The 15-percent figure is fixed but the total sum would increase as rents for individual units increase, said Phil Frese, president and CEO of Domus. Since the property is owned by the Newark Archdiocese it is tax-exempt.

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NJ Transit, which is reporting increased ridership this year, will enact schedule changes May 11 (next Sunday). The new schedule includes adding several weekend trains to the Northeast Corridor line service.

Happy six months everybody

Paper is what you give for a first anniversary. What do you give for a six-month “anniversary”? Ah, you don’t have to get me anything; reading the blog is gift enough for me. Six months technically isn’t an anniversary anyway, which is why I hate when people say x-month/week anniversary. But happy six months to everyone.

Another record number of votes in the the latest poll, besting the last poll, which had 73 votes. Of course anyone with too much time on their hands could skew the results, so it’s by no means scientific — but it sure is fun!

“It’s almost six months since we started. What do you think of the blog?”
Positively blog-irific! I can’t get enough! — (58/76) 76 percent
I like to check in, but I’m not addicted — (15/76) 19 percent
A blog among many — (1/76) 1 percent
Ah, you’re just a shill for the (insert political party here) — (1/76) 1 percent
Don’t quit your day job — (1/76) 1 percent

Wow, thanks for all the love, the checks are in the mail. But seriously, even those who didn’t gush about the blog, I’m always open to suggestions about anything at all. And since the brain trust is running dry lately for new poll questions, feel free to pass along any suggestions. Let ‘er rip in the comments section anytime. And try checking in on comments from older posts, you’d be surprised what you find.

The first couple of months were focused on just getting something posted and it wasn’t until about mid-January that I got around to tracking visits to the blog and jazzing it up, i.e., subscribe by email, etc. I’ll try to experiment some more but I tend to worry about just getting news up.

In case you’re interested, here are some statistics about the blog (gotta love Google Analytics even though they probably have more info on me than I care to think about). Since mid-January, we’ve had 8,569 visits from 2,792 visitors and almost 18,000 page views and with more than 2 page views per visit. We now get more than 100 visits almost every weekday (one reason why I tend to post stuff during the week more often lately), with a high of 181 on March 31. Average time on site is almost 3 minutes and the percentage of new visits is still almost 33 percent.

Of the more than 2,600 visits that found the blog by keyword searches, almost 600 (22 percent) came from searches for “rahway rising,” “rahway blog” and “rahway rising blog.” It appears some people still just type in the name in a search and access the blog that way; bookmark it, baby! Or better yet, subscribe by email or RSS feed. There are 68 subscribers by email, slow and steady growth the past two months (maybe a handful of new ones each week).

Here’s a quick breakdown of the most common keyword searches that ended up visiting the blog:

Luciano’s — 343 visits (13.1 percent, of the 2,600+)
SkyView — 182 (6.9 percent)
Cubanu — 167 (6.4 percent)
Rahway Center Partnership survey — 62 (2.3 percent)
Dornoch — 47 (1.8 percent)

There may have been slightly more in some categories, but I lumped all related searches into one, i.e., Luciano’s had searches for “luciano’s rahway,” “luciano’s restaurant,” etc. Not surprisingly then, the top three most viewed posts in the first six months all were related to Luciano’s and Cubanu opening or reviews. Rounding out the top five were the posts about condos rejected at the Koza’s site (big among nj.com readers ea few months back) and the state of the city address, which mentioned several development projects.

Most readers usually access the site directly, but 4.6 percent came through nj.com, and another 3.8 percent through craigslist (New York and New Jersey).

Thanks to everyone who’s been reading and those who have commented — especially those who don’t do it anonymously — it’s really kicked it up a notch the last few weeks.

KC Jazz construction: 6 to 9 months

Construction at KC Jazz restaurant could take anywhere from six to nine months and should start soon, according to developer Casey Granieri, who’s waiting for construction bids.

The former Kelly’s Pub building at Seminary Avenue and Irving Street received Planning Board approval (.pdf) last July. The renovated structure will have a capacity of about 100 people and feature a 1,400-square-foot patio and distinctive 37-foot tower. The second floor will include two two-bedroom apartments.

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To celebrate the city’s 150th anniversary, the Rahway Center Partnership will sponsor a block party on East Cherry Street Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Lennington Street project to break ground

Developers expect to break ground on a three-story, 13-unit townhouse complex on Lennington Street in the next month. Construction on Riverview Manor is expected to take 18 months or less. The current structure, commonly referred to as the Lennington Tea House and located at the end of Lennington Street, will be demolished.

The Planning Board Tuesday night gave approval for a minor variance for front/side yard setback, though the main hold-up to construction had been the state Department of Environmental Protection’s waterfront development permit. The state required a public access of some kind to the Rahway River, so there will be a 30-foot public easement and several public parking spaces. Public access will be contiguous from this property to a proposed Sleep Inn (.pdf) motel across the street.

Each two-bedroom unit will have a one-car garage and one parking space and is expected to be on the market in the $400,000 range. The homes will be some 40 feet from the Rahway River and two feet above — and out of — the flood zone, according to Dave Miele of GMM Associates.

GMM Associates also has constructed four new homes and rehabilitated a third, three-family home on Sterling Place (between Brookfield Place and East Hazelwood Avenue) and rehabilitated another on Main Street.

A blog about all things redevelopment

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