A rendering of M Station, a planned office and retail project in downtown Morristown by SJP Properties and Scotto Properties — Courtesy: SJP/Gensler
By Joshua Burd
A development that will transform a stretch of downtown Morristown — bringing 340,000 square feet of high-end office space and new public plazas — is set to break ground in the coming months after securing final approvals from the municipality.
SJP Properties, which has partnered with Scotto Properties for the project, is eyeing late summer to begin vertical construction on the first of two mixed-use buildings known as M Station. The initial phase will include some 110,000 square feet occupied by Deloitte LLP, which will move operations from Parsippany under a previously announced lease, along with street-level retail and the first half of a 1,000-space parking garage.
The developer is also now marketing the second phase, known as M Station West, offering an additional 230,000 square feet in one of New Jersey’s most attractive but undersupplied submarkets.
“This is arguably one of New Jersey’s best towns,” said Peter Bronsnick, SJP Properties’ president for the New Jersey region. “And these opportunities are few and far between over the lifecycle of any real estate, let alone when companies are looking for answers that help them set their plans for the next 10 to 15 years.”
SJP and Scotto are moving ahead after securing final planning board approvals late last month. As Bronsnick noted, the firms were in the midst of the entitlement process when COVID-19 struck New Jersey, but it was important to press on in order to meet the obligations of the Deloitte transaction. The approvals were also “imperative from a marketing perspective because we wanted to make sure that we could offer M Station West in good faith” as office tenants reconsider their space needs in the wake of the pandemic.
Located along Morris Street between Lafayette Avenue and Spring Street, the Gensler-designed project will redevelop an existing retail strip center near the Morristown train station. The developers are planning not only top-tier office space, but a combined 33,000 square feet of retail space across the two buildings and major streetscape and infrastructure improvements.
The remaining office space is already attracting interest from a host of users, SJP said, including companies in the technology and pharmaceutical sectors.
“Each feature of this development — from its distinctively modern architecture and state-of-the-art infrastructure, to its energy-conscious design and efficiently configured floor plates — is a testament to our organization’s passion for excellence,” Steven Pozycki, SJP’s founder and CEO, said in a prepared statement. “We applaud Morristown’s leadership for having the vision to realize the positive impact that M Station will make, and look forward to delivering this meaningful project at a time when economic development of this caliber and significance is so critically needed.”
Companies are in fact rethinking their approach to office usage, putting an even greater premium on health, safety and the ability for their employees to maintain social distancing. Yet Bronsnick is confident that M Station’s design will meet the changing needs of Deloitte and other users: Pandemic or not, he said, “we’re always prepared for making sure that a building has the best indoor air quality possible” when it comes to its mechanical systems.
He also noted that the base building will seek designation on the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED scale, which denotes Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. What’s more, the SJP executive pointed to the planned efficiencies of the buildings’ floorplates, which “allow you to maximize density, but in this case also give you flexibility for more space per person.”
“Efficiencies can work in a multitude of ways, but the plates in the building and the overall design were done for flexible solutions moving forward, with sustainability in mind,” Bronsnick said. “And we’re fortunate that we’re pretty disciplined about all of those things on the onset, because not only does it allow you to adjust for the unknown, but it gives tenants flexibility down the line for their own operation.
“Which is why Deloitte was comfortable partnering with SJP, because they knew we were designing something for their workplace today and for the future.”
That’s not to mention the abundance of outdoor space that M Station will have. Plans call for large outdoor terraces on the penthouse floor of each building, along with the retail-lined public promenades along Morris Street.
SJP and its leasing team with Cushman & Wakefield are also touting all that the downtown has to offer, from shops and restaurants to culture and the Morristown Green.
“We want the tenants to engage in the community, and part of why we’re so excited about this project is because of what M Station does to help activate the downtown further,” Bronsnick said. He later added: “We really view the town as a complement to what tenants are looking for when they’re trying to attract and retain talent.”
The developer is now pitching those benefits as it markets M Station West, the second building, which Bronsnick said could wind up being home to multiple users. He noted that SJP will seek a commitment from “a sizable tenant” before launching construction, adding that an anchor company “will have the ability to dictate some of the base building design specifications” as it moves ahead with the seven-story property.
Bronsnick also said that M Station West will be an option for companies that are mulling whether to decentralize their operations, essentially, by opening secondary locations outside Manhattan in order to reduce density and their employees’ reliance on crowded trains and buses. He pointed again to all the building will have to offer — which also includes significantly more usable space per square foot, adjacency to a train station and on-site parking — all at a major discount from the Manhattan office market.
The growth of the workforce in and around Morristown only adds to the appeal.
“This is an interesting opportunity for someone … because what’s happening in Morristown is such a testament to what the administration has done there and the maturity of that market now, that the labor migration is real and it’s continuing out this way toward Morris County,” Bronsnick said, adding: “I could see this becoming a satellite hub or a spoke for a larger company.”
He went one step further, calling M Station West “the perfect answer to someone’s real estate conundrum.” Aside from the labor force, the perks of downtown Morristown and state-of-the-art office space, he said the location allows companies to protect their employees from long, crowded commutes and enhance productivity — all while “committing to a town that is supportive and welcoming of their presence.”
“It really captures a lot of the things that companies are discussing in private about their future office needs,” Bronsnick said.