Plans for The District North Market, located at 100 and 300 Market St. in Montvale, call for two residential buildings with a combined 308 luxury apartments. The S. Hekemian Group recently welcomed local officials to the property, the former site of the Mercedes-Benz USA headquarters campus, to mark the opening of the first building. — Courtesy: The S. Hekemian Group
By Tina Traster
Often the departure of a major corporate tenant gouges a gaping physical and economic hole in a community, leaving behind a shuttered facility, overgrown grounds and loss of both jobs and tax revenue.
But that’s not how the story ends for the 32-acre parcel vacated by the Mercedes-Benz USA headquarters team in 2015 in the heart of Montvale, a leafy Bergen County suburb bordering New York. Instead, the large tract of land across from The Shoppes at DePiero Farm, just east of the Garden State Parkway, is evolving into a sophisticated urban oasis that brings a blush of city living with a blend of apartment rentals, ground-floor retail and office space known collectively as North Market.
Last spring, The S. Hekemian Group of Englewood, which built The Shoppes in 2017, debuted Workplace North Market, now a nearly fully leased 52,025-square-foot Class A office building with ground-floor retail at 200 Market St. In mid-July, local officials along with the developer held a ribbon-cutting to announce the completion of The District North Market at 100 Market St., the first of two residential buildings that when combined will total 308 units. The second building is slated to be completed in September.
“Lots of work and thought went into this project and now it’s the talk of the county,” Montvale Mayor Michael Ghassali said. “This will become the new hub. I am very proud and sincerely thank the Hekemian team and our planning board members for coming up with what I call the true gem of our county.”
When completed, the North Market project will include one-, two- and two-plus apartments with monthly rents ranging from $2,500 to $6,200, including an allocation of 44 affordable housing units, 95,000 square feet of ground-floor retail spread among the office and residential buildings, as well as an 86,000-square-foot building that will house a Valley Health System surgical center, including 26,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space.
The Valley Health building replaces plans for a boutique hotel — a pivot the developer made during the pandemic.
“The hotel market is now questionable,” said Peter Hekemian, senior managing director of The S. Hekemian Group. “Instead, we are building a state-of-the-art medical building.”
Hekemian, along with public officials, acknowledged the project is a long time coming, having traveled a somewhat typical but also atypical road from acquisition to development. There have been challenges at every juncture: rezoning the property from “Office/Research” to PUD, or Planned Urban Development, winning community support, reaching a consensus on acceptable designs and, more recently, slowdowns in available labor and construction materials during and since COVID.
“When you seek to rezone, it’s extremely, extremely difficult,” Montvale Planning Board Chairman John DePinto said. Mercedes-Benz had occupied the site for decades, and IBM before that. “But we had no choice.”
Town leaders did not want to watch the site turn to rot.
“Mercedes abandoned us,” DePinto said. “We needed to use a creative approach. We kept the lines of communication open with the public. The developer shared his concepts. We communicated the benefits. We needed to win consensus because we needed to replace a huge loss of ratables.”
DePinto said Mercedes-Benz paid $750,000 annually in taxes. North Market will ultimately pay $1.4 million in annual taxes, he added.
To some degree, the successful Shoppes at DePiero Farm, a former historic site, paved the way for North Market. It is a tastefully designed shopping center with a nod to country life but has a top-tier lineup of retail including Bergen County’s first Wegman’s, Starbucks, Lululemon, Chopt, Orangetheory Fitness, Ulta Beauty, CityMD and more.
“The Shoppes are the true anchor,” Hekemian said, adding that the mixed-used North Market and the shopping center “all feed off each other. Together they energize the environment.”
Hekemian points to the nearly full occupancy of Workplace North Market despite a glut of empty office space countywide. Meantime, renters have leased about 50 percent of The District, the first residential building, while there are “at least 13 pending leases” for ground-floor retail spaces.
“This is unusual,” Hekemian said, commenting on market trends. But he believes the confluence of the nearby Shoppes, haute design, a resort lifestyle feel with an integration of luxury amenities and nearby retail and restaurants is the draw for apartment seekers.
The two residential buildings along with the office complex have tenant commitments from Fleming’s Steakhouse, Paris Baguette, Glosslab, Rumble Boxing and Naya Mezze & Grill.
The four-story apartment buildings at 100 Market and 300 Market have units ranging from nearly 700 square feet to 1,500 square feet of light-filled space with large windows, 11-foot ceilings, hardwood floors, Kohler and Moen bath fixtures and private balconies and patios. Kitchens include gas ranges, stainless steel appliances and Ceaserstone countertops. Apartments include walk-in closets and washers and dryers.
The buildings feel like city-cool with a large lobby, an inner courtyard with an outdoor swimming pool, a reflection terrace with gardens, grilling stations, cozy conversation hubs with lush furniture and bar seating, lounge chairs and a fire pit. Inside there is a lobby coffee bar, a spa with a hot tub, a cold plunge, a sauna and steam room, a fitness center and spin room and a yoga studio.
The apartments have keyless entry, and the pet-friendly buildings offer a pet spa and dog run. There are EV charging stations and a co-working space for residents only.
“The extraordinary pace of leasing activity certainly validates that The District is truly something special,” Hekemian said.
Tina Traster is a freelance writer and the editor of Rockland County Business Journal. She is also a former business writer for Crain’s New York Business, real estate writer for the New York Post and staffer at the Bergen Record.