Elizabeth’s Vinty creates community, gives new meaning to WFH (slideshow) (updated)

Jessica Perry//July 10, 2023//

MAS Development founder and principal Sal Garcia.

MAS Development founder and principal Sal Garcia. - JESSICA PERRY

Elizabeth’s Vinty creates community, gives new meaning to WFH (slideshow) (updated)

Jessica Perry//July 10, 2023//

Listen to this article

Vinty broke ground in 2019, at the time representing a $91.5 million investment. Now, following the opening of a unique onsite eatery, its 20,000-square-foot next-generation work experience and Northfield Bank branch, Elizabeth’s only Class A apartment building has embarked on its journey to craft a “vintage city” on Union Street.

During a tour of the property in May, MAS Development founder and principal Sal Garcia said there were just about 35 units left at the 267-residence building, bringing it to 90% occupied with just about 25 units remaining. “Getting the finances was hard,” Garcia said. “It’s easy to just build apartments—everybody does that. But you don’t create change just building apartments.”

That’s why you’ll also find Vintage City Eatery and Vintage City Offices at the property, which boasts 32,272 square feet of ground-floor retail and commercial space.

A proponent, propagator and product of the Elizabeth community, Garcia said the vision with Vinty was to mirror the interwoven relationships that the concept of a “vintage city” evokes. “The way that I designed everything was to create energy amongst people. Create that culture and that vibe where people are running into each other,” he said. “You know your neighbors, you know your community. You can do everything within your community and you really get a good feel for it.”

Elizabeth’s 300-plus-year history is embedded throughout Vinty, in photos and art adorning the walls, for instance, and within Vintage City Eatery, the 3,315-square-foot sous vide food hall powered by SVK Kitchens, which includes a re-created trolly car. Open to the public, the restaurant offers certain perks for tenants, including a room service-esque delivery option.

Vintage City Eatery is a 3,315-square-foot sous vide food hall powered by SVK Kitchens. - MAS DEVELOPMENT
Vintage City Eatery is a 3,315-square-foot sous vide food hall powered by SVK Kitchens. – MAS DEVELOPMENT –

Garcia says the inclusion of Vintage City Offices distinguishes it from other mixed-use projects in New Jersey.

For him, it’s about thinking about the larger thing. Which means making sure Vinty is accessible to the community it serves and operates within. To that end, he said the coworking space will offer a limited, introductory access pass for $99 so that people can come and use the space and get a taste of what it and the city have to offer. The boutique space – a less-than-seven-minute ride from Newark Liberty International Airport – also offers dedicated desks (from $400 per month) and private offices (from $999 per month), along with day passes, virtual offices and meeting rooms. Across its approximately 20,000 square feet, the coworking space offers 65 private offices and, according to Garcia, can support upward of 200 users or companies.

The property is also located within an Opportunity Zone and an Urban Enterprize Zone, the latter of which, according to the City of Elizabeth, boasts one of the highest participation rates in the state and has served to kickstart more than $1.5 billion dollars in new economic development since its inception about two decades ago.

“Our idea is to make this kind of Union County business center, tied into the residential – if you live in the building, you’re all tied in,” Garcia said.

Within the shared spaces of Vintage City Offices, Garcia said they tried to create a fun environment: There are informal spaces that can host meetings or offer a place to “hang out,” a basketball hoop and ping pong table if you need a break, pantry space, a kitchen and a celebratory gong. “Made a sale? Hit the gong,” he explained. “You want to create the environment where you want to go into the office.” And, at Vintage City Offices, that includes giving people the option to work outside the office, too, within Vinty’s interior courtyard, separate from the residential component.

“We’re creating a business environment. So, we’re not really the party place, we’re the business network type,” he said of the overall property. But that doesn’t mean the spaces aren’t built to engage their occupants, as Garcia made sure to distinguish: “We are not the boring building, [but] we are pushing different things.”

Blurred lines

There’s a lot of emphasis on the inclusivity of the property; however, it’s not an attempt to wall residents or users of the offices away from the city. It’s more a reflection of the ways in which the environment itself is a component of its surroundings. That blurring of lines is further reinforced when some of Vintage City Offices’ tenants are considered, among them the Greater Elizabeth Chamber of Commerce and the Elizabeth Welcome Center, the Historic Midtown Elizabeth SID and Groundwork, which runs the onsite greenhouse for residents located in Vinty’s interior courtyard and will offer programming at the property, as well as help to maintain the plethora of live greenery that is found throughout.

Speaking from Groundwork’s Vinty office space, Executive Director John Phillips explained, “We build a more sustainable Elizabeth,” adding, “[W]e’re excited to be here,” and describing Garcia as a “forward thinking guy.”

“It’s one of really I think the best things that kind of occurs in this city,” Groundwork’s director of urban agriculture Jackie Park Albaum explained, speaking to the developing culture at Vinty and Vintage City Offices, “But I think here is actually the most direct visual representation. We’ve all known each other a really long time and we worked together to improve the city. This is very much the icing.”

For business owners, or those unfamiliar with the area, the Elizabeth Chamber offers a direct connection to whatever you want to do, or whatever you may need help with.

“[I]t’s like a concierge for the residents, but at the same time, the businesses love it because they’re going to come down and say, ‘Hey, where can I go to eat?’,” and the Chamber has a direct relationship with that business. “So now it’s not a random concierge,” Garcia explained, it’s fostering a network.

Luxurious lounge areas welcome visitors and users alike, crafting and upscale work experience.
Luxurious lounge areas welcome visitors and users alike, crafting and upscale work experience. – MAS DEVELOPMENT

Elizabeth Chamber President and CEO Jennifer Costa was onsite in the group’s developing space. “If you look at it from a Chamber perspective, I don’t think anyone in the state’s going to have this type of full operation,” she said. In addition to office space, there is also room to host events and the Welcome Center. Plus, if a member comes in looking for a place to work from for the day, there is a direct link to Vintage City Offices.

Costa pointed out that the model pairs well with “the new work environment.”

“Post-COVID, companies don’t want to invest in” long-term leases, she said, as office populations shift depending on when and how many people are working remotely amid hybrid arrangements. “So really, the concept is brilliant and it’s an honor for our chamber to partner and also mold with the times,” she said.

That dynamic is reflected in the design ethos of the space, as well. “You can’t keep up with the times, so you have to leave the space flexible to change,” Garcia explained. “We created everything in a flex format that you can move … Nothing is really set the way it is,” allowing operations to scale up or down as they grow or their needs change.

Though Vinty may be starting its emergence as a communal hub in Elizabeth, Garcia is quick to point out it’s due to a team effort. “This is possible because of companies like the Chamber … and Groundwork; we have the mayor and council and a lot of people that have always been supportive.”

According to Garcia, Vinty is attracting new and returning residents from New York City and other, smaller transit-oriented downtowns – Westfield and Cranford, for instance. And they’re not just living at Vinty; they’re working there, too. “They live upstairs and now they’re going to be working in spaces down here,” he said, explaining that when work is over – or if it dictates the trip – you can walk out the door to the nearly finished, new $71 million train station across the street and head to Manhattan.

The location allows you to do anything.

“We’re for the people who want to come in here, who want to be a part of a community. Build … the community. And then utilize the business network to help you grow as a person, but simultaneously to help you grow within the community and help that community grow,” Garcia said, and to do that, you cannot just have apartments.

And for young professionals, or those young at heart, Elizabeth offers something the suburbs don’t, he said: A cool, affordable place to live. “And if you’re priced out of Jersey City and Hoboken,” Garcia said, “you can’t live there.”

In June, apartment listing site Zumper reported that Jersey City had the second highest rents in the nation, with a median rent of $3,370 per month for a one-bedroom unit. Meanwhile, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Elizabeth was $2,100 as of July 2023, according to the website. Even representing a 24% increase compared with 2022, the cost is still well under the Hudson County comparison.

Garcia – like other city-based operators – is optimistic about Elizabeth’s prospects, asking and answering, “So where’s the new upcoming [area]? We are. Elizabeth is.”

And Vinty’s unique and collaborative space is helping drive that momentum.

“You see the community, which is like going back into the ‘vintage city.’ Everything used to be a walk here, your banking, your community, your chamber. Everybody was in one continuous thing. … So we’re creating [that],” he said. And people are responding. According to Garcia, Vintage City Offices signed some leases even before it started advertising the space—just through word of mouth. People want to secure a spot, “Because they know that this is the future.”

Looking toward that, Garcia said he thinks the road ahead will be less bumpy. (And to that end, Vinty secured $97 million in financing at the start of June). “We’ve broken through the brick wall and we’ve proven the concept,” he said.

“Vinty represents the first phase of a transformational placemaking community for downtown Elizabeth,” said Senior Managing Director Michael Klein of the JLL Capital Markets Debt Advisory Team that arranged the funding.

That vision includes a coming-soon sister project, Ecco, which is slated to include 258 apartments, and a hotel.

“The city’s like a fine wine,” Garcia said, and with Vinty in the mix it seems as if Elizabeth’s 336-year-old vintage is coming into style.

Vintage City Offices will celebrate its grand opening July 12, 2023.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 10:29 a.m. ET on July 10, 2023, to update the occupancy rate for Vinty.