Accurate has launched leasing at Citizen Bayonne, a planned 651-unit luxury apartment complex on the city’s fast-growing waterfront peninsula. Led by Jack Klugmann, its CEO and president, the firm has completed more than 1,000 residential units in New Jersey since 2021 and has a development pipeline with more than 6,000 additional homes in the state. — Photo by Aaron Houston for Real Estate NJ
By Joshua Burd
A sore subject? Not at all. But it’s certainly a recurring theme and perhaps a running joke for Jack Klugmann, whose fast-growing development firm plans to build more than 4,000 apartments and commercial space at the former Riverfront Stadium property in Newark.
“Everybody wants to hear about Newark,” said a smiling Klugmann, Accurate’s CEO and president, who notes that the company is slated to build thousands of units in other markets.
“Everybody is busy with Newark — all day, every day.”
Klugmann takes it in stride, recognizing the scale of the project and its potential to impact the state’s largest city. But Accurate’s pipeline in other communities is no less impressive. The firm in recent years has been prolific in building and lining up new multifamily development projects across New Jersey, having completed some 1,000 residential units since 2021 alone. It now has construction underway, approvals in place or sites under control to build another roughly 6,400 apartments and townhomes, including Newark, with other acquisitions still to come.
Critical to that momentum are the firm’s construction team and other in-house departments, based at its Lakewood headquarters, as is Klugmann’s view as a long-term holder.
“We’re a company that does everything ourselves,” he said. “So we’re very in tune to what needs to get done. When we see a property … we can look at it and say, ‘OK, what do we want to do here?’ (and) ‘How can we make money on this deal? Is it possible to even make money on this deal?’ because we wear all the different hats. That’s how we look at everything we do.”
Accurate has broken ground or will soon do so on its next wave of projects — in Parsippany, Basking Ridge, Montclair, New Brunswick and Cedar Grove, along with Connecticut and Philadelphia. It’s also eyeing a late winter groundbreaking for the first of nine phases in Newark, which calls for nearly 600 apartments across two buildings, part of a plan to fill a longtime void at the edge of the city’s downtown.
“We’re looking to make projects that matter, that are important, that are almost game-changing,” Klugmann said. “That’s what we’ve done, that’s what we’re sticking to … and that’s where we’re going.”
Klugmann, who is self-effacing and humble about his beginnings, recalls growing up “in a do-it-yourself household” in Passaic before moving to his wife’s hometown of Lakewood. It was around 2008, while managing the community center in his development, that he began to take painting and construction jobs such as basement renovations, additions and housing rehabs. His newly founded business then moved into ground-up single-family homes in Monmouth, Ocean and Passaic counties, first as a third-party builder, before expanding to the multifamily space.
Klugmann would build some 2,000 residential units as a general contractor, but in 2012 sought to become a developer in his own right. After starting with custom homes, he decided in 2015 to focus on multifamily and commercial projects, taking a longer-term view for the company.
“It’s nice to get a check at the end and (be) done,” Klugmann said, referring to the process of building and selling single-family dwellings. “But we switched our model to be able to build and hold assets. … We started looking for assets where we could rent them out and collect income, and then I can go to my kids and say, ‘Here’s a beautiful thing.’”
The firm broke ground in 2018 on 276 apartments in Raritan Borough and delivered the property three years later, marking the completion of its first large-scale multifamily project. It was an example of “building projects that matter” to the host community, he said, as the municipality’s first new rental property in decades, one that served LabCorp, Johnson & Johnson and other employers in the Somerset County borough. The same was true for Accurate’s ensuing projects, which included 234 apartments at the Linden train station that it unveiled in late 2021. It also recently launched leasing at a 651-unit complex along the Bayonne waterfront, known as Citizen Bayonne, while it recently obtained a certificate of occupancy for 185 units in Little Falls.
The projects have raised the firm’s profile as it fills its pipeline and looks for additional opportunities, allowing it to be decisive and aggressive as new sites hit the market.
“He’s a closer,” said one broker, who asked not to be named out of respect for other clients.
Klugmann said the firm’s growing in-house team allows it to move quickly on deals. It now has around 80 employees across offices in Lakewood and Edison, up from about 25 in 2017, covering everything from legal and finance to preconstruction, development and acquisitions.
It’s also helped prepare Accurate for its largest project to date, known as CitiSquare Newark, where plans call for 11 buildings with 4,200 apartments and 100,000 square feet of commercial space between Broad Street and McCarter Highway. The firm has secured approvals for the first phase and plans to break ground in the first quarter on two 18-story residential buildings, each containing 299 units, with a single story that connects the structures with nearly 22,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space and 15,000 square feet of amenities.
That will kick off a project that Klugmann estimates will take seven to 10 years, but one that will create a new neighborhood with retail, office and hospitality space just steps from the city’s Broad Street train station and the Riverfront Stadium light rail station.
“This is the best piece in Newark, by far. I don’t care what anybody tells me,” he said, citing the 11-acre parcel’s mass transit access, adjacent highways and its proximity to the city’s employers. “When you fly into Newark, you are going to see these apartments.”
The site’s former owner, Lotus Equity Group, sought to develop the land with a 500,000-square-foot mass timber office alongside up to 2,000 residential units. But its future was uncertain by 2019, following the city’s unsuccessful bid to attract Amazon’s second headquarters, creating a need to reconsider how to draw investors to the property.
“Planning and zoning is like any other profession — it has to be organic, and it has to be malleable,” said Christopher Watson, director of planning and development services for Murphy Schiller & Wilkes LLP, who joined the Newark-based law firm in January after four years as the city’s planning officer. “You need to change, and what zoning needs to do is take market realities into consideration when you’re preparing land use, because conditions that were spoken about a decade and a half ago don’t exist today … And we look at this particular site as the most northern extension of a robust neighborhood that is being created in Newark.”
It has sparked an opportunity for Accurate, which was looking at a separate parcel in Newark’s Ironbound section but was drawn to the city’s vision for the former Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium site. The firm closed on the property in 2021 and is now moving ahead with the promise of $2 million in bond funding for each phase, plus other support from the city that Klugmann said is crucial.
“(When) you want to put thousands of units on a property and you have the city have the same mindset as you, you’re so much further down the path to success,” he said. “And that’s what happened here. … They did their homework and they wanted to make sure I know that this is important for what they’re trying to do in their city.”
Also key is a plan to include 400 affordable housing units, along with the developer’s creation of a training, retention and apprenticeship program for Newark residents to provide on-the-job learning with the goal of increasing enrollment of city residents in union jobs. Klugmann noted that “we’re giving back, which I enjoy because it makes your project interesting and it makes people want to be part of it on all levels.
“Newark is the biggest city in New Jersey,” he said. “We wanted a piece of it and it’s a fantastic project.”
Accurate’s pipeline goes well beyond apartments, from new industrial space in Ocean County to the recently completed Morris Marketplace in Morris Township. The latter, a joint venture with DeVimy Equities, is a new retail destination that is rising on part of the former Colgate-Palmolive corporate campus on East Hanover Avenue, where the firms have attracted a host of national retailers to complement new children’s play areas, pocket parks, splash pads and other active and passive recreation spaces across 20 acres.
Klugmann’s team is also building its pipeline outside New Jersey, having started on 71 units adjacent to a Metro North train station in Fairfield, Connecticut. Construction is also underway in Philadelphia’s Northern Liberties neighborhood, where it’s planning 107 townhomes and 297 apartments, while it aims to develop 1,200 residential units and new retail space in Miami.
“We have a model of what we’re looking for. If it’s in a market that we like, if the pro forma works with what we need, we go all out,” Klugmann said. “We’ll get to the seller, we’ll sit down with the seller and give them the confidence that we’ll close.”
That’s not to say that the firm is being reckless as it scales, with rent growth slowing for apartments and some forecasts calling for an economic recession. But Klugmann feels that Accurate’s long-term view will prove advantageous.
“We’ve absolutely seen it,” he said, referring to recent headwinds. “You have to build it assuming that you’re going to carry the project a little bit longer because you don’t get the same labor as you used to get — (although) it’s much better than it was even a year ago — and you have to calculate that you’re going to pay higher interest rates during construction and on a perm loan.
“So we’re still aggressive … but you have to plan accordingly.”
According to Jack Klugmann, “it’s really the work of everybody here that allows us to do what we do.” That includes a growing team of in-house professionals led by six industry veterans:
- Craig Goodstadt, general counsel
- Michael Raimondi, director of preconstruction/design manager
- David Cahn, executive director of acquisitions
- Steve Aisenstark, chief financial officer
- Avi Motechin, director of construction
- Rivky Eisemann, director of development