A conceptual master plan of a proposed 44-acre redevelopment along Route 18 in East Brunswick — Courtesy: River Development Equities LLC
By Joshua Burd
A developer on Tuesday joined local officials in East Brunswick to present their vision for a $500 million redevelopment plan in the township, seeking to transform more than 40 acres of aging and underutilized retail property along the busy Route 18 corridor.
The Red Bank-based firm, River Development Equities LLC, is moving ahead with the high-profile project after recently executing an agreement with the township’s redevelopment agency. The company has now turned its focus to acquiring the parcels within the 44-acre redevelopment zone, where plans call for a dynamic, mixed-use destination with residential, commercial and hotel components, along with a mass transit hub and open space.
The properties sit on the southbound side of Route 18 between Ruth and Lake streets, about a mile from the New Jersey Turnpike.
“Our goal and objective here in East Brunswick have been to create the most significant change to an aging and obsolete commercial corridor in over half a century,” East Brunswick Mayor Brad Cohen said. “We have aimed to create a true ‘transit-oriented development’ which meets the needs of residents and consumers of the 21st century. We want to create a community that appeals to all age groups-those starting out and those looking to downsize. There will be something exciting for everyone here in East Brunswick.”
The agreement between the township and River Development comes nearly two years after Cohen and Councilman James Wendell launched a redevelopment agency to spearhead the effort, which included using the tools allowable under the state guidelines for redevelopment. The township then issued requests for proposals to repurpose and revitalize areas that included the defunct Loehmann’s Plaza and other blighted retail properties.
The winning plan by River Development calls for creating a third commuter parking structure and bus terminal to support the high demand for non-rail transportation options into New York City, according to a news release. Meantime, township officials and members of the project team touted what will be a modern aesthetic that incorporates design elements from around the country.
“As a developer with a history of rebuilding contaminated and decayed properties, this project is special to us because it closely aligns with our core values as a company,” said Warren Waters, a principal and partner of River Development. “Expectations for suburban living have shifted in recent years, with residents preferring to live in communities that offer walkable downtowns and convenient mass transit access while still enjoying inherent suburban characteristics.
“The scale of this project will make East Brunswick a leader in this category and the envy of other municipalities, future residents and everyone who visits. The streetscapes will imbibe a dynamic mix of uses certain to capture the imagination and allow for all to embrace it.”
Stakeholders on Tuesday noted that the process was still in its earliest stages, but touted the promise of new residential offerings that will entice East Brunswick’s young professionals to stay in town, while appealing to move-down renters and empty-nesters. According to the news release, additional elements would include a modern hotel, restaurants, shops, pedestrian paths, water features and a central public plaza.
“This key step marks the beginning of a process,” East Brunswick Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Mike Hughes said. “There will be many milestones along the way, but the shared vision of River Development Equities and East Brunswick Township have aligned to revitalize and redevelop a key corridor for not only our town, but our region and state.
“We look forward to the next steps of this process to transform an underutilized and outdated area into a vibrant professional and cultural destination. The future is very exciting for East Brunswick’s residents.”
River Development’s project team includes a host of well-known professionals from firms such as Shore Point Architecture, Melillo + Bauer Associates, Langan and Giordano Halleran & Ciesla PC. Meantime, township officials highlighted the role of Fran Reiner of DMR Architects, who served as a consultant to the redevelopment agency.
“This is a monumental step for the township and redevelopment agency,” said Wendell, who serves as the agency’s chairman. “In 12 months, RFPs were evaluated, a developer was conditionally selected, several iterations of a plan were fine-tuned and refined, and we achieved a signed redevelopment agreement. Property acquisition has begun in earnest and I’m pleased to see this excited project move forward.”