Arianne Schreer (left) and Alexis Pizzurro have spearheaded the development of the luxury residential community in North Bergen known as Metro Place, the latest project by the Demetrakis family. The development will bring 214 apartments to a site on Tonnelle Avenue directly south of a stop on NJ Transit’s Hudson-Bergen Light Rail. — Photo by Aaron Houston for Real Estate NJ
By Joshua Burd
A new luxury apartment community is taking shape in North Bergen, where a development team hopes to lure renters with the convenience of being adjacent to the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail.
Arianne Schreer and Alexis Pizzurro recall it as “a no-brainer” when the site became available.
“It was a definite ‘go’ from the minute we heard it was for sale,” Pizzurro said.
Some six years later, Schreer and Pizzurro are nearing completion of the long-awaited, 214-unit project at Tonnelle Avenue and 48th Street. That milestone will come with added significance for the duo, the managing members of Arilex Realty Corp. and daughters of longtime Gold Coast developer James Demetrakis, as it will mark their first completed project at the helm of the family real estate business.
Those who know them say the company is in good hands.
“They are classic workaholics and overachievers,” said Billy Procida, founder and president of Procida Funding & Advisors, as well as a longtime family friend and onetime protégé of Demetrakis. The veteran developer and lender is now mentoring Pizzurro and Schreer, while his Englewood Cliffs-based firm recently closed a $52.5 million construction loan to the Demetrakis family to help bring the North Bergen project to completion.
“At this point in life you’ve got to give back what you’ve got,” Procida added.
Known as Metro Place, the development is transforming the site of the former Manhattan Mobile Home Park along a busy stretch of Tonnelle Avenue. Three of the complex’s four buildings are slated to open in early spring and welcome residents by midyear, offering 138 upscale homes with spacious layouts. The team also expects to open a clubhouse in the coming months that will feature a pool, a fitness center and other tenant amenities, while a second phase that will include 76 units over podium parking is slated for completion around year-end.
When the first renters arrive, Schreer and Pizzurro expect to continue the type of responsive, hands-on management style that they’ve honed at Cliffside Park Towne Centre, a mixed-use development that opened in 2017. Prior to the pandemic, that meant not only 24-hour concierge service for the project’s 314-unit luxury rental tower, but offerings such as Memorial Day barbeques, on-site flu shots and regular food truck visits.
“It’s all about building a community and we want to do the same thing here,” Pizzurro said during a recent tour of the site. “We think the town is ready for it. They seem to be really open to it.”
It’s no surprise to see Schreer and Pizzurro carrying on the family business. They recall working as teenagers at their parents’ restaurants — the Palisadium in Cliffside Park and HB’s in Paramus — where they spent summers logging receipts, busing tables and refilling creamers and sugar dispensers.
“We didn’t go to sleepaway camp,” Schreer joked, noting that she graduated college in 1994 and went straight to the family’s real estate office, as their father was developing projects such as Waterford Towers in Edgewater. Pizzurro joined her about two years later, following a year as a news writer for CNBC. Both have remained there ever since, working various schedules and in various roles while raising their children.
It was around four years ago that the sisters assumed full-time development roles, as the Towne Centre project in Cliffside Park was approaching completion. Since then, working alongside Controller Michele Culmine, they have spearheaded the building’s on-site management team with what they see as a hospitality-focused approach, seeking to promote social interaction among residents through monthly events while providing responsive, high-touch service.
“You run a building almost like you would run your household,” Schreer said, later adding: “We live in a world of instant gratification. … The days of waiting for the super to show up to fix a leak doesn’t happen anymore.”
The team was forced to modify its programming last year amid the need for social distancing and safety measures during the pandemic. That meant providing residents with grab-and-go apple pies in lieu of a Memorial Day barbeque, for example, along with increased cleaning and other measures to help reopen the building’s fitness center and amenity spaces.
They’ve also made design changes at Metro Place with an eye toward protecting residents during the COVID-19 crisis, including expanding the gym and adding desk space in the clubhouse for remote working and virtual learning.
“We’re trying to think of everything that we can give everyone moving forward so that it can give us a little edge on what other people haven’t done yet,” Pizzurro said.
The sisters note that they bring different strengths to the business. Pizzurro typically focuses on leasing, marketing and property management, while Schreer specializes in design and purchasing when it comes to light fixtures, flooring and other elements of the apartment buildings.
They’re now taking that expertise to their next project, with the support of the family’s longtime friends and business partners. That includes Procida, who brings four decades of expertise in development and finance, which has proved crucial in the progress of Metro Place.
He recalls being 18 when he met Demetrakis, a prolific developer along the Hudson River and in Bergen County, noting that “he would introduce me to who I needed to know and he was a reference … so it’s one of those full circle stories.”
“Back when we met there was no ‘Jersey Gold Coast,’ ” Procida said last summer after his firm’s 100 Mile Fund closed the $52.5 million construction loan for the project. “He is possibly singlehandedly responsible for what is now called the Gold Coast. Not to mention his girls have grown up eating and sleeping real estate.”
Procida is not the only familiar face. The construction manager for Metro Place is Paramus-based RVN Enterprises, which is led by Richard LaBarbiera, who has also filled that role for several of the Demetrakis family’s previous projects.
“We always like the continuity of having our construction management team and our contractor,” Schreer said. “We build consistency with the companies we use.”
As for their future plans, Pizzurro and Schreer are careful to not look too far ahead.
“We’re focusing on this,” Pizzurro said, referring to Metro Place. “We want to get it done, we want to rent it up and we want to make sure it’s solid, beautiful and running well. And then we’ll move onto the next.”
Schreer added: “People love a beautiful new product that’s run well.”