A rendering of four residential buildings within the proposed Bates Street redevelopment area in Jersey City — Courtesy: Manhattan Building Co./STUDIO V Architecture
By Joshua Burd
A developer with deep roots in Hudson County has proposed building more than 2,300 apartments at the edge of downtown Jersey City, seeking to transform several blocks of blighted property just east of the New Jersey Turnpike extension.
The firm, Manhattan Building Co., is the master developer of a nine-acre redevelopment area along Bates Street. To that end, the company has spent roughly the last three years crafting a plan with city officials that would include affordable and workforce housing as part of the overall project, which would span roughly four blocks.
The current version of the proposal calls for 2,360 units across four towers, which would range from 23 to 50 stories, although MBC emphasized that the process is still in its early stages.
“It’s the most classic urban renewal I’ve ever seen,” said Sandy Weiss, MBC’s founder and CEO, noting that the existing neighborhood includes run-down buildings, many of which are abandoned, in an area that suffers from dated water and sewer infrastructure.
“It’s an area in need of taking it from A to Z, (demolish) it, put infrastructure in and then build — just like they do in New York City — in a professional manner,” he said. “And we’re trying to get everyone to buy into it.”
Just last week, MBC hosted a meeting with city officials and residents at which it presented its current vision for the Bates Street Redevelopment Plan. The meeting was the latest step in what Weiss expects to be a long cycle of community engagement, and the firm knows that feedback from local officials and residents will inevitably lead to design and density changes.
Still, the developer noted that density is the key component to “cracking the code” of creating affordable housing without using subsidies, which is one of the goals of the project. Weiss and his team also said another key focus of the development is remedying the major water infrastructure problems that exist at the site today.
MBC is currently working with the city to change the zoning and is not seeking entitlements at the moment, the firm said. But completing the zoning phase could allow it to obtain approvals by early next year.
If the plan moves forward, it would be MBC’s latest large undertaking in the city and another attempt to build a new neighborhood virtually from scratch. The firm has built nearly 800 luxury apartments in an area known as Soho West, a formerly industrial neighborhood just south of Hoboken and west of the Holland Tunnel, having delivered three buildings in about four years.
Weiss ultimately hopes to bring another 1,500 to 2,000 units to the neighborhood, he said. The buildings are all close to or at full occupancy, housing roughly 1,600 residents, but he said the area still lacks the infrastructure and the commercial offerings that will make for a cohesive neighborhood.
MBC is working with city officials on a long-term plan to create that infrastructure, including parks, sidewalks and sewer and water lines. But Soho West also highlights the importance of completing the infrastructure along Bates Street before any buildings go up.
“We really see that as the next Soho West — except that what we want to do is not do it piecemeal,” Weiss said.
With the Bates Street project, both MBC and city officials are also focused on connecting the two neighborhoods that are currently separated by the Turnpike extension along Interstate 78. Weiss notes that, on the other side of the highway, the neighborhood is home to a popular park space.
“It’s a hidden gem and we want to open it up,” he said. “How do you open it up? With human beings.”
Weiss also pointed to the current plans for Bates Street that call for taller, more slender buildings that provide a view corridor to the waterfront, rather than a wall of 10-story buildings that cuts off the neighborhoods to the west.
“We’re trying to do it correctly up front,” Weiss said.