Eight projects and two key figures in New Jersey commercial real estate were among the honorees at an annual awards dinner hosted by the Urban Land Institute’s Northern New Jersey chapter, which drew a crowd of development executives and professionals. Above, the development and design team behind Mill Creek Residential Trust’s Modera Lofts project in Jersey City accepted the award for the residential project category. — All photos by David Warner/Courtesy: ULI Northern New Jersey
By Joshua Burd
It was around 2014 when Mill Creek Residential Trust acquired the 110-year-old, post-and-beam warehouse that would eventually become the project known as Modera Lofts in Jersey City.
As Rich Murphy tells the story, the deal led to something of an emotional rollercoaster that preceded one of the state’s most creative adaptive reuse projects in recent years.
“When we bought it, it was euphoria,” said Murphy, a Northeast managing director for Mill Creek Residential. “And then it very quickly became: ‘What we were thinking?’
“It took a lot of hard work by a lot of people — many of the people in this room — but I think, at the end of the day, we created one of those projects that is truly a once-in-a-career project.”
Murphy spoke Thursday night to a crowd of real estate executives and professionals who were on hand for a ceremony hosted by the Urban Land Institute’s Northern New Jersey chapter. The conversion of the historic brick warehouse in Jersey City into the upscale, 366-unit Modera Lofts building was among 10 recipients of the chapter’s annual Excellence Awards, which recognized a range of projects and figures involved in transformative developments.
All photos by David Warner/Courtesy: ULI Northern New Jersey
“We think there is no better place to get a group of real estate professionals together,” said Brian Whitmer of Cushman & Wakefield, the chair of the chapter’s volunteer management committee, later adding: “We’re unique in being one of the only not-for-profit real estate organizations that claims to have the academics, the service providers, the principals, the brokers and everybody who keeps it going, all with a like-minded sentiment.”
The categories and winners include:
- Mixed-Use (project): Park + Garden/Bijou Properties (Hoboken)
- Small Deal of the Year (project): Brunswick Center/BGT Enterprises (Jersey City)
- Capital Markets/Equity Award: Journal Squared/Kushner Real Estate Group (Jersey City)
- Industrial Project: Cranbury Logistics Center/Clarion Partners (Cranbury)
- Residential Project: Modera Lofts/Mill Creek Residential Trust (Jersey City)
- Sustainable Development Project: Vault491/The Bravitas Group (Montclair)
- Sustainable Development/Open Space: Berry Lane Park/Jersey City Redevelopment Agency (Jersey City)
- New Jersey Development Project of the Year: The Yard @ College Avenue/New Brunswick Development Corp. (New Brunswick)
- Leadership in Public Policy or Public Service (person): Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner
- Leadership in Real Estate (person): Somerset Development President Ralph Zucker, for Bell Works (Homdel)
The event, held at the Stony Hill Inn in Hackensack, drew attendees from both the private and public sectors, as some of the awards recognized the role of government in successful redevelopments. Turner, the Weehawken mayor, was honored for his decades of working with builders such as the former Roseland Property Co. and Hartz Mountain Industries to transform the once-vacant north Hudson waterfront.
“It’s been a long odyssey,” Turner said. “And the key to all of this is the partnerships you build with the developers. And if you don’t build the partnerships that benefit the entire community, benefit the developers, benefit the residents — both old and new — we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
The honorees were selected from nearly 50 nominees, Whitmer said. To be considered, projects had to meet criteria that included exceptional leadership and distinction, being located in northern New Jersey, being completed and operational, demonstrating a high standard of excellence, demonstrating resourceful use of land preservation or enhancement in the built environment, contributing to the current and future needs of the community in which it is located and being innovative and worthy of replication.
Jeff Garibaldi, president of The Garibaldi Group, hit on many of those themes as he accepted the award on Zucker’s behalf. Garibaldi’s firm is the office leasing agent for the 2 million-square-foot Bell Works project in Holmdel, where Somerset Development is repositioning the iconic former Bell Labs research complex as an urban-style, mixed-use environment.
“A lot of the developers and investors that were looking to buy this property before Somerset Development were looking to knock this building down and build more residential, build more retail, build more golf courses,” Garibaldi said. “Ralph looked at it differently. He is a true visionary.
“He embodies all of what ULI stands for in terms of trying to make something good out of real estate that is just sitting fallow.”