March Associates Construction held a ceremonial groundbreaking in mid-October for The Parke at Hamburg, a 50,150-square-foot retail project on Hamburg Turnpike in Wayne. — Courtesy: Briana Samman of March Associates
By Joshua Burd
At the recent groundbreaking for The Parke at Hamburg, a planned retail center in Wayne by March Associates Construction, Mayor Christopher Vergano noted the importance of having a developer that is not only locally based, but one whose leaders are longtime township residents.
He was asked if that made him more confident that Lou March Jr., the firm’s president, was negotiating in good faith as he sought approvals for the project.
“Absolutely — I know where he lives,” Vergano quipped, before adding a serious comment.
“We know the March family for a long time, so we’re very happy that they put this together.”
Tongue-in-cheek as it was, there’s no discounting the importance of March’s connection to the Passaic County township — and the role it played in jumpstarting the 50,150-square-foot project. Located on Hamburg Turnpike, the parcel has long sat vacant and underused along one of the town’s busiest retail corridors, despite a development plan that goes back more than a decade.
For March Associates, a construction management firm, the prospect of bringing the project to fruition in its hometown was enough for it to undertake a rare self-development. And, upon completion, the center will serve as a long-term investment for the March family.
“We didn’t develop it to flip it or sell it,” said March, the firm’s second-generation leader, whose firm is headquartered less than two miles away on Hamburg Turnpike. “We developed it for my family and it’s going to be left to the family.”
March Associates employees and executives joined local officials on Oct. 18 to mark the start of construction at the site, which is just west of Valley Road. With delivery slated for late next summer, The Parke at Hamburg is already fully leased to a roster of national tenants such as ULTA Beauty, Panera, The Paper Store and others, thanks in large part to the addition of a new traffic light that will facilitate access to and from the site.
Executives with R.J. Brunelli & Co., the center’s leasing agent, said the new signal was one of several keys to unlocking the site’s potential. Chairman and Principal R.J. Brunelli said the brokerage team also faced an initial challenge of “getting our prospective tenants to understand the Wayne/Hamburg Turnpike sub-regional shopping area.”
“Clearly, our site would service a different trade area than the regional shopping hub centered at the intersection of Routes 46 and 23 in Wayne, where critical national tenants like Ulta and Panera Bread already had locations,” Brunelli said in an email. “A second issue was to enhance access to this well-located site. Through the extraordinary efforts of developer Lou March and the recognition by key governmental agencies that a new traffic light was needed at the site to promote smart traffic planning interests, we were able to secure commitments from key national tenants who demanded easy and safe access.
“Finally, we understood this local market’s needs for retail, restaurant and service businesses, and balanced that against tenants’ parking and access requirements. The result is a 100 percent pre-leased shopping center during a period of time in our industry when big-box vacancies dominate developer reluctance to start new projects.”
Other tenants include Habit Burger Grill, Sport Clips and Everbrook Academy, creating a roster that March feels is critical to the center’s long-term health.
“That’s why it was so important to have the tenant mix that we put here,” March said. “One, because we live in Wayne. Two, because it is going to the family and we just wanted it to be a solid, stable center, which it is.”
The demand also shows the strength of a corridor that has attracted other redevelopment projects. For instance, Vergano pointed to the recent demolition of the shuttered Wayne Hills Mall about a half-mile to the west, where Crossroads Cos. is now developing a 79,540-square-foot ShopRite that is slated to open next year. The mayor also cited two assisted-living projects on Hamburg Turnpike that are redeveloping existing properties and will add a combined 350 rooms to the township, as well as the reconstruction of a nearby Bank of America property.
What’s more, the town is slated to hear plans to redevelop the aging Preakness Shopping Center, a decades-old mainstay on Hamburg Turnpike.
“This is a great property for development in the township of Wayne,” Vergano said of the March Associates project. “It’s part of the revitalization of Hamburg Turnpike that’s going on now. You drive up and down and you see many projects that we needed — and this is a good one.”
Lakeland Bank is financing The Parke at Hamburg, whose project team also includes The Dietz Partnership and Menlo Engineering Associates. March said his firm plans to stick to “our bread and butter” as a third-party contractor and is not planning any other self-developments, but noted that the project has added significance: It coincided with the arrival of Lou March III, who joined the business in May after graduating from the University of Cincinnati.
The younger March, an aspiring developer, has served as the company’s point person with the township when it came to bringing The Parke at Hamburg to fruition.
“It really worked out well,” March said, “because who can you trust better than your son?
“He’s just got the temperament with the township and the permitting process — and more patience and time. This is a project that required time and that’s really what led to it.”
For Vergano, the addition of a third generation has brought another layer of comfort to the project, he said, given the importance of working with a locally owned, multigenerational firm that has been in the town for decades.
“They’re part of the fabric of our community,” he said. “They’ve always done great projects and we’re very happy to be here today.”