A business attraction

Redevelopment gains momentum in Essex County

While the economic rebound in Newark is well-known, business owners say success stories are evident all around Essex County. Just ask executives at Matrix New World Engineering, a Florham Park-based engineering services firm that provides environmental engineering, surveying and other services across Essex County and elsewhere.

“Over the past two years, Matrix has been involved in Essex County redevelopment projects totaling more than 2 million square feet,” said Rob Gascoyne, the company’s vice president – Environmental Services. “The majority of our redevelopment work was in support of large, greater-than 250,000 square-foot portfield warehouse projects. The portfield projects are obviously driven by the port and the existing infrastructure, which is almost incomparable to other locations.”

So-called portfield development — transforming underutilized and brownfield sites into active warehousing and distribution centers — is being encouraged by the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey and the New Jersey Economic Development Authority. The agencies sponsor a program, the Portfields Initiative, which helps private developers, communities and others with financial, technical, and other kinds of support.

Businesses are moving beyond Newark

Until now, much of the portfield activity has been centered in Newark. But Matrix is also seeing portfield developers “beginning to push their investments outside of Newark” due to limited available sites within the city, Gascoyne explained. “Some portfield developers are looking at other Essex County locations like Irvington, and at areas in Hillside (in Union County), but in those areas it can be harder to assemble the acreage required.”

Plugging a gap with a bi-county project

When developers work on a significant project, they know there’s bound to be some red-tape issues with local and other authorities. But when Prism Capital Partners LLC decided to launch On3, a massive redevelopment of the 116-acre former Hoffmann-LaRoche campus, the company took on a formidable challenge: a single property that spreads out over two towns, Nutley and Clifton, and two counties, Essex and Passaic.

“It does make things a bit more complicated,” chuckled Edwin Cohen, a Prism principal. “Two townships in two counties meant about 50% to 75% more work than one township in one county. But everyone’s been very cooperative — after all, it’ll mean more tax revenue for them — and we’re way ahead of where everyone expected us to be regarding new jobs and new tenants.”

At its peak under Roche, the campus supported about 4 million square feet of buildings and up to 10,000 people, he said. “By mid-2020, we anticipate having close to two million square feet of space with as many as 5,500 people.”

The campus already has an impressive roster of tenants, including Hackensack-Meridian School of Medicine at Seton Hall University, and other Seton Hall University institutions at 123 Metro Boulevard, a 477,000-square-foot structure. At another campus facility, 111 Ideation Way, Hackensack Meridian Health is creating a 70,000-square-foot National Institutes of Health-designated clinical research lab and center, while bio-fabrication company Modern Meadow leased and moved into its own 73,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art laboratory. Illustrating the flexibility of the campus — ON3 also attracted the Ralph Lauren Corporation, which signed a full-building lease at 100 Metro Boulevard, a 255,000 square-foot structure.

Prism also has a signed letter of intent from a builder who plans to put up a 190-unit assisted living facility on Kingsland Street on the Nutley side of the campus. Additional development is also planned for the Clifton portion.

“The ON3 site is an attractive location, just nine miles from Manhattan, with 160,000 cars a day passing by; and it represents the largest piece of undeveloped land between the Garden State Parkway and the New Jersey Turnpike,” said Cohen. “It offered us the chance to create a new type of environment that didn’t exist in Northern New Jersey: a complex with education, office, research and development, lodging, entertainment, food and beverage, and residential. A true live, work, learn and play environment.” Activity like this helps to make Essex County an even more attractive choice.

Matrix was involved in a significant portfield project at 256 Vanderpool St. in Newark, where a nearly 300,000 square-foot distribution-warehouse on about 15 acres has been built. But the company has also provided engineering and other support services to residential redevelopment projects throughout Essex County, from “multi-family residential projects in and around Newark to proposed townhomes adjacent to Essex County Airport,” Gascoyne added. “These residential developments seem to be driven by the desire to be located in Essex County.”

The company’s services on many residential projects include survey, civil, geotechnical, permitting, planning, and environmental. “The most consistent component of all these redevelopment projects is environmental,” said Gascoyne. “Developers understand that there are very few sites available for redevelopment that do not have an environmental challenge to tackle, since the easier sites have been previously redeveloped. Now, sites that were previously passed over are being targeted for redevelopment.”

In turn, he said, the demand is “driven by a few factors,” including “a developing degree of comfort on addressing certain environmental issues, such as vapor intrusion, and the need or desire to be in specific locations, like Essex County.”

Redevelopment in Essex County has also benefitted substantially from its “premier transportation infrastructure,” Gascoyne said. “Most substantially, industrially developed neighborhoods in the vicinity of Port Newark are experiencing transformative redevelopment that is converting abandoned industrial manufacturing properties into modern warehouse/distribution hubs. Likewise, the Newark Airport/Penn Station transportation hubs are spurring commercial and residential redevelopment of properties throughout the region, with workforce and affordable housing development playing a substantial role.”

A small-business helping hand

The county hasn’t neglected smaller business, either. Agencies like the Essex County Office of Small Business Development and Affirmative Action work to ensure equal opportunity and fair play in the procurement and contracting processes through efforts that include strategic partnerships with private sector financiers and insurers of small, woman-owned, and minority-owned businesses. The SBDAA also reaches out to individuals, groups and organizations with the goal of expanding the network of small, woman-owned and minority-owned businesses.

Essex County offers technical assistance to help business owners obtain certifications, financing, and bonding; and the SBDAA encourages collaborative partnerships with groups and organizations that share a commitment to equal opportunity. The agency also partners with the Economic Development Corporation of Essex County to help expand contracting opportunities for small, woman, and minority-owned businesses. In some cases, they don’t even have to be based in the county.

“I have had the pleasure of participating in the first Bonding Readiness Program offered by Essex County,” said Cindy Malinchak, owner of Warren-based Environmentally Based Green Building. “The program was extremely educational, insightful, and, most important, effective in my quest for bonding. At the conclusion of the program, I had a solid game plan on how to prepare my company for bonding.”

There’s also a certain feel to Essex County municipalities like Montclair, according to Drew Knapp. An entrepreneur, he owns A Greater Town, a geocentric marketing and communications site — which is building free home pages for every town — where individuals and businesses can set up free postings.

“The idea is to tag to a town’s name as a primary focus,” he said. “People often will remember the location of a restaurant or other attraction but can’t recall the name. This model, like Craigslist, gives individuals the ability to start with a location and drill down to the business or other attraction in the locale and nearby ones. Our goal is to list every town in the world on our site.”

He monetizes the site through real estate listings from companies like VRBO, and other listings from organizations like restaurant.com and hotels.com that pay Knapp when viewers click through and complete a transaction with the sponsor company.

“Montclair’s atmosphere refreshes and invigorates me,” he said. “I don’t even have to drive to get to many places. I just walk out my door and down the street to visit multiple merchants. Montclair offers a small-town feel but with easy train access to New York City. The Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship at Montclair State University also attracts a tech community and is a great resource for business networking.”

For entrepreneurs and other business owners, Essex County has established itself as an attractive one-stop shopping location.