APEX Orange Crossing, a new 50-unit multifamily development at 276 Reock St. in Orange, is the first piece of a planned three-phase development by PEEK Properties. It’s also part of a development pipeline around the city’s two train stations totaling nearly 1,000 units. — Photo by Aaron Houston for Real Estate NJ
By Patricia Alex
The boom in luxury rental apartments has come to Orange, where at least 1,000 units have been planned near two train stations in this small Essex County city.
Both stations offer Midtown Direct service — a one-seat commute into Manhattan in just under a half-hour — which has been a catalyst in recent growth along a stretch of eastern Essex County that includes neighboring East Orange.
“We’re serving a community that has been overlooked for a long time,” said Emanuel Klein, a managing partner with PEEK Properties, whose firm recently delivered a 50-unit building on Reock Street, with more than 400 additional units in its pipeline in the city.
Some of the new buildings in Orange recently have come to market and there is ongoing construction throughout the downtown, generating an estimated $160 million in development, according to Laquana Best, the city’s director of economic development. They include PEEK’s APEX Orange Crossing, which opened in September and is nearly fully leased, the developer said. By April, the first phase of Russo Development’s Essex & Crane by Vermella is expected to open adjacent to the Orange train station, bringing 209 new market-rate apartments to the downtown, while Reynolds Asset Management broke ground last spring on a 103-unit building just west of the Highland Avenue station.
The redevelopment was a long time coming in this town of 30,000 residents in 2.2 square miles. A center of 19th century hat-making and home to light industry in the early 20th century, Orange struggled in the decades after post-war deindustrialization, despite its prime location just west of Newark on Interstate 280.
“We were overlooked, but now we let them know we are here,” Mayor Dwayne Warren said. Developers have credited the Warren administration with easing their entry into Orange, where tax credits and other state and federal incentives are in place to spur development around the train stations. Orange has both Opportunity Zone and Transit Village designations, providing federal tax benefits and state funding opportunities, respectively, while its Main Street, just a block north of the Orange train station, is also a redevelopment zone.
City officials don’t expect the new developments to generate many new students in the K-12 school district, as most of the new apartments are smaller units designed for young professionals or smaller families. Supporters hope that the growth will provide a shot in the arm for the walkable downtown, however, as retail and support services follow the residential projects.
“I’m optimistic and excited about the apartments. It’s really refreshing to see,” said Anthony Minervino, who is part of a group that opened Four City Brewing Company near the train station in 2019. The craft brewery is part of a 72-unit, mixed-income apartment building at 50 and 55 South Essex Ave., by L+M Development Partners, and Minervino said he’s hopeful the new residents downtown will mean more foot traffic, allowing the business to expand its current schedule of four days a week.
All the new developments are market-rate. Rents for the studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments in the APEX Orange Crossing midrise are listed as ranging from $1,800 to $2,775 and are drawing tenants beyond train commuters.
“We’re getting a really good mix of people from the area,” said Phil Evanski, a managing partner of PEEK. “It’s a good price point relative to other things in the area.”
The developer has begun work on phases two and three of the Orange Crossing project, which will bring another 190 units to market near the Orange train station. The first phase of another PEEK project will build 138 new units near the Highland train station, with another 100 planned to follow in a second phase.
The new units in Orange feature amenities like firepits, rooftop decks and in-unit laundry, developers say, while the market rate is slightly less than neighboring suburbs like Montclair or South Orange.
“We have four-star amenities right in Orange,” said Nick Dinallo of Terminal Construction Corp., which is building Russo’s Essex & Crane project adjacent to the Orange station. The development, which broke ground in June 2021, ultimately will house 410 units in two buildings and include greenspace, walkways and 750 parking spaces, including garage parking for daily commuters who don’t live in the complex.
The two train stations are less than a mile from one another and both offer service on NJ Transit’s Morris & Essex Line. Brick Church Station in neighboring East Orange is a just a mile east. Both cities seem to be shaking off their distressed status with a spate of redevelopment in the past few years.
David Oropeza, an investment sales broker with Gebroe-Hammer Associates, specializes in multifamily properties in the eastern Essex corridor. He said he has seen “dramatic improvements” in the East Orange rental market that are now spilling into Orange, as both draw interest from throughout the region.
“It’s natural for something to happen (in Orange). It has to do with location,” said Oropeza, an executive managing director with the Livingston-based firm. He added that the new developments will bolster the rental market and attract retail and restaurants.
“Rents have remained strong. The issue in North Jersey is there’s not enough apartments, not enough land.”
The good transportation options may have spurred this latest round of development, but boosters are quick to point out that Orange has “good bones” that include an Olmsted-designed park and a burgeoning arts district in its Valley section. They say it’s high time the east-Essex towns — Newark, East Orange and Orange — were recognized.
Comparatively lower land costs and tax incentives remain a draw, but very little developable space remains in Orange. A former hat factory has been converted to lofts near the Highland station and city officials are working on plans to redevelop the former Orange Hospital and YMCA sites. The town is hoping to pair with a developer to develop a public recreation site at the latter.
In addition to the new luxury units, Warren points to new public housing that also has been built during his 11-year tenure. He credits a “team” at City Hall that has helped make it happen.
“This has been a long time coming and it took a lot of work, but it’s an exciting time for growth,” he said.
Patricia Alex is a freelance writer in New Jersey and former reporter and editor at The Record in Bergen County.
At a glance: Development in Orange
Address: 276 Reock St. (phase one); 49 Day St. (phase two); 72 South Essex Ave. (phase three)
Units: 240 (total)
Developer: PEEK Properties
Status: Phase one fully leased; phases two and three under construction
Essex & Crane by Vermella
Address: 377 Crane St.
Units: 410 (total)
Developer: Russo Development/Dinallo Construction Corp.
Status: Phase one slated to open April 2023
Orange Valley Apartments
Address: 606 Freeman St.
Developer: Reynolds Asset Management
Status: Estimated delivery late 2023