A rendering of Harvard Printing, located at 550 Central Ave. — Courtesy: Ironstate Development and The Alpert Group
By Joshua Burd
Ironstate Development Co. and The Alpert Group have started construction on a $33 million project that will bring 128 new apartments to an area at the border of Orange and West Orange.
Located at 550 Central Ave., the project calls for a new four-story building with 70 affordable and 58 market-rate units, the developers said in a news release. Plans also include the adaptive reuse of a historic art deco building that will be converted to a 160-car parking deck, with a location just steps from NJ Transit’s Highland Avenue train station.
The project is known as Harvard Printing, an ode to the former use of the 2.5-acre site and the vacant industrial printing facility that the developers are repurposing.
Executives with the firms joined public officials recently to mark the start of construction and the role the project will play in revitalizing the area. Both Orange and West Orange are involved in redeveloping the Valley neighborhood that touches both municipalities, with plans that include beautifying the East Branch of the Rahway River and creating a vibrant, mixed-use residential neighborhood and arts district.
“Looking at the Valley neighborhood, and Orange and West Orange, it reminds us a lot of Morristown and Long Branch and some of the other towns in New Jersey we’ve been able to invest in and bring new life to,” said David Barry, president of Hoboken-based Ironstate. “Morristown had a history of some disinvestment in the downtown area. Long Branch was similar. Now those two communities are thriving, and we see some of that same potential here. We have a train station and a core of stores and shops, and walkability, so we are really excited to be a part of this project going forward.”
Monthly rental rates will range from $818 to $1,096 for the affordable units and $1,215 to $1,665 for the market-rate units, the news release said. Each apartment will include modern kitchens, a free parking space and other features, while residents will also have access to shared amenities.
Harvard Printing is rising with the help of the New Jersey Housing Mortgage and Finance Agency. The agency said the $32.7 million project is a recipient of 9 percent federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits, which will generate nearly $16.5 million in private equity, and additional financing including $550,000 in County HOME Funds and a $3 million subsidy from HMFA’s Multifamily Production Program.
“This community is a fantastic example of a well-planned revitalization project that will bolster the City of Orange’s mission of ‘Moving Orange Forward,’” said HMFA Executive Director Anthony L. Marchetta. “I have no doubt that Harvard Printing will provide its new residents with all the economic, social, and cultural resources that make living in the vibrant City of Orange an exciting and enriching experience.
“The city’s diverse population and business-friendly climate sets the tone for a highly successful comeback for an area that was once known as the ‘hat manufacturing capital of the world.’”
The project is a long time coming for The Alpert Group and Ironstate, which have sought to develop the property for nearly a decade. Joseph Alpert, president of the Fort Lee-based Alpert Group, said the firms “were moving pretty quickly to finalize our development plans when we were derailed by the Great Recession.”
They have spent the ensuing years working to reboot the development.
“Over the next nine years we spent countless hours working with Sharon Levy and the team at Monarch Housing and New Jersey Redevelopment Authority (NJRA) Executive Director Leslie Anderson on alternatives for development proposals,” Alpert said. “And finally, last year we received the approval we needed from the HMFA.”
West Orange Mayor Robert Parisi said the project is replacing or repurposing buildings on Central Avenue that have been vacant for decades, calling it “is a source of inspiration for local residents and new businesses thinking of opening a location in either Orange or West Orange.”
“There have been any number of people over the years who have talked about investing in the Valley or moving their business into the Valley, and one of the first things we tell them is there is a big project coming that is going to spur a lot of economic development and bring in a new group of residents,” Parisi said in a prepared statement. “We have been hugely supportive of this project and we hope to have one of these groundbreakings on our side of this property very soon.”