Next stop, Journal Square: Area poised for resurgence

via Joshua Burd/ NJ Biz

The days when Journal Square was Jersey City’s commercial hub have long since passed, giving way to three decades of development near the Hudson waterfront.

But if the city’s construction pipeline is any indication, it’s only a matter of time before the private sector breathes new life into the historic neighborhood on the hill.

There are now four redevelopment projects under construction that would add some 900 apartments to the area around the Journal Square PATH station, according to data provided by Jersey City officials. And four other proposals are in various stages of planning, accounting for another 2,000 residential units.

“I think it’s Brooklyn 15 years ago,” said Ken Pasternak, a developer who started to buy portfolios in the borough’s Williamsburg section in the early 2000s. “I see the same kind of energy in Journal Square that I saw in Brooklyn.”

Pasternak’s firm, KABR Group, is now planning to transform the longtime home of the Jersey Journal, the neighborhood’s namesake, after the newspaper moved its headquarters to Secaucus in January. Partnering with Kushner Cos., the firm plans to build a 40-story apartment tower behind the building while preserving its iconic façade.

They are just two of the builders that are banking on the future of Journal Square, which is only 20 minutes from Manhattan via the PATH train. And their interest comes as Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop pushes development beyond the downtown and waterfront areas, in part by sweetening tax abatements for inner-city projects.

It remains to be seen if Journal Square can attract the types of renters who populate the city’s trendy downtown and waterfront areas, but a case study is about to begin. Next month, the neighborhood’s first high-end residential building will open on Newkirk Street, about two blocks south of the PATH station.

2014-08-27_10-17-40Matt Weinreich, the developer of the 56-unit project known as Kennedy Lofts, believes he can reach the same clientele — and he has what he feels is the perfect way to entice them. The eight-story property is a converted office building, resulting in cost savings that allows the owner to offer lower rents than many of the high-rises downtown.

But Weinreich said Kennedy Lofts still has many of the same offerings: high-end finishes in the units and amenities such as a rooftop terrace and a fitness center.

“If we do this project the right way, and our rents are lower than they are on the waterfront, we can incentivize people to stay on the PATH four more minutes and come to Journal Square,” said Weinreich, principal of New York-based Hopkins Group LLC. “That was the concept, and we believe that if we build it in such a way that it’s a high-quality project, then people will come.”

Other developers are watching the trend lines with the belief that, even for ground-up projects, Journal Square will look like an attractive alternative to Manhattan.

KRE Group's Journal Squared
KRE Group’s Journal Squared

“There’s a very, very heavy flow of people coming out of New York City that want to cut their rent costs in half and have great transportation,” said Jonathan Kushner, president of KRE Group. “That’s really what our building are all geared toward.”

He said rates for new luxury rentals in Manhattan start around $80 per square foot. That’s roughly double the rates KRE expects to offer when it opens the first piece of “Journal Squared” — a three-phase, mixed-use project — directly adjacent to the transportation hub.

KRE and its partner, National Realty Advisors, broke ground in June on the 54-story tower with 538 apartments, which will connect with a rebuilt entranceway to the PATH station.

The other phases could take KRE through the next decade, while other developers such as KABR and Hopkins group are exploring other sites near their existing projects. Each seems to believe it’s “the more, the merrier” when it comes to creating a new community around Journal Square, and none seems to concerned about oversupplying a neighborhood that is fed by the New York City metropolitan area.

“Journal Square is going to grow up, build a brand and it’s going to take away from Brooklyn, Long Island City and other Manhattan neighborhoods,” Pasternak said. “It’s not going to market to Hudson County.”

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