Recycling, and Selling, Some History – 1/25/09
CONCEIVED back when the residential market was healthy, two warehouse-to-loft conversions in New Jersey are now being marketed in Hoboken and Jersey City, and a third is under way in Newark.
Two of the projects are condominiums and one is a rental, but all are being promoted as chic, energy-efficient designs that recycle buildings of distinctive historical value.
“Reuse of old industrial buildings located in urban areas is highly desirable,” said Peter Primavera, of the Urban Land Institute, “from a planning point of view — and to buyers.”
Residential real estate experts in the state say that demand for converted lofts in urban areas — especially those near a mass transit “hub” — was surging before the bank and economic crises hit, and most predict it will swell again as the overall economy recovers.
Right now, according to the developers, sales at the two condos are tepid.
“Well, it’s the worst possible timing,” said Lawrence Bijou, the managing partner of Bijou Properties, which is just now opening the Garden Street Lofts in Hoboken. “But we have sold almost half of 30 units, which I say is pretty good.”
In Jersey City, where 22 new condos are nearly complete at “m650 Flats,” a five-story conversion of a century-old structure, six units have sold in three months (three of them to members of the Carrino family, which owns Brunelleschi Construction, the building developer).
The Newark building, a few blocks from City Hall and the Prudential Center sports and entertainment arena, had also been planned as condominiums. Early last year, Mayor Cory A. Booker of Newark cited the prospect of the first condos downtown as evidence that the city’s revitalization effort was gaining traction.
But prospects for bank financing disappeared with the national economic crisis, said the project’s developer, Michael Saltzman, whose company is called Newwork. Construction began in late October to create 67 rental units instead. Mayor Booker said at the groundbreaking that it made him “very proud.”
The Newark building — which like the Hoboken and Jersey City structures lay vacant for years before being eyed for renewal — was originally a jewelry factory. Known as the Richardson Building, it has stood for a century at the corner of Columbia and Green Streets, and it gets a mention in Philip Roth’s novel “American Pastoral,” which is set in historic Newark.
The building has one jaw-dropping feature: a six-story-tall steel spiral staircase that stands in an open central atrium. The elements turned the staircase rusty, but that deterioration will be halted, as plans call for a skylight roof and a small courtyard around the central spiral.
“It will be a natural gathering place, a social center for residents,” said Brendan Murray, the chief executive of Tekton Development, which is creating Richardson Lofts.
Tekton is recycling materials, using “green” techniques, and installing energy-efficient features throughout the building, in a bid for a “silver” rating from the United States Green Building Council, which issues certifications based on LEED standards — for Leadership in Energy and Energy Design. This would be a first for Newark.
The Garden Street Lofts building in Hoboken is headed for certification as the first silver-rated residential building in the Jersey waterfront area. A five-story brick structure where coconuts were once processed, the building was retrofitted with a two-story zinc-faced addition.
It offers one-, two- and three-bedroom units, some with decks — and two two-story penthouses on the top floors, one with a 1,400-square-foot terrace with a hot tub. Prices start in the mid-$600,000s and go up to $2 million for the premier penthouse unit.
“So far, we haven’t had to lower prices,” said Mr. Bijou, the developer. “There are actually some interesting buyers out there. We’ve seen several sports figures, and the ambassador to the United Nations from Sudan came by.”
At the m650 Flats building in Jersey City, the builders said they used green techniques and material but are not striving for the LEED rating. They are going for high-impact style, said Anthony Carrino, the 30-year-old son of Alfonso Carrino, who created the Brunelleschi Construction Company after recognizing the potential of a decrepit structure on Montgomery Street.
Anthony Carrino, whose cousin John Carrino is also a builder and a buyer at m650, said with a shrug: “The market is what it is. But we are aiming for the buyer who wants something that can’t be found anywhere else.”
At their “boutique” building, a block up, and across Montgomery from the huge Beacon condominium complex, the Carrinos carefully deconstructed a brick and bluestone wall at the street level, reusing the brick and stone to create Old World masonry in the style of Filippo Brunelleschi, the Renaissance sculptor and architect, in the condos.
That is paired with ultramodern Euro-style fixtures for the interiors, environment-friendly bamboo flooring, and a “virtual doorman” service.
A robotic parking garage was installed at street level in the building, which has served variously as a livery, a warehouse, an Army-Navy surplus center — and even, at one point, the fake storefront site for an F.B.I. sting, according to Alfonso Carrino.
“I should know the history around here,” Mr. Carrino said. He was born at the Jersey City Medical Center, the complex that is now the Beacon condos.