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Mill Creek setting sights on growth in New Jersey

Morristown project is first step for national multifamily player

Russell Tepper, Mill Creek's senior managing director: We want to grow our portfolio.-(PHOTO BY AARON HOUSTON)

In developing Morristown’s newest luxury apartment building, Mill Creek Residential seems to have left nothing to the imagination.

The 248-unit building on Prospect Street has a sleek lounge with two billiard tables, iPad docking stations and a bar that can be stocked for tenant functions. Its 24-hour fitness center — while certainly a staple in new rental buildings — is adjoined by a yoga studio and spin room.

There’s also the on-site pet spa.

So there’s no doubt Mill Creek is making a splash in Morristown with the project it opened in December, Modera 44. And with good reason: It’s the Dallas-based firm’s first project in New Jersey since it spun off of Trammell Crow Residential in 2010 — and the start of what it says is an aggressive push to expand its footprint in the region.

“When I joined Mill Creek in March, the No. 1 goal … was to grow the portfolio,” said Russell Tepper, senior managing director of its Northeast region. “And we have tirelessly worked toward that end, and no one should be surprised if, over the course of the next year or 18 months, the number of communities that Mill Creek announces grows dramatically.”

Tepper said the firm currently has about 1,000 units under construction in the region, including Long Island, representing more than $250 million worth of construction activity. He expects that pipeline to double through next year, including several projects in New Jersey.

Mill Creek, one of the largest multifamily builders in the country, has those plans as the Garden State continues to see a surge in apartment construction. And experts say the fundamentals are there to support continued demand at least over the next few years.

“This cycle certainly has longer to run,” Jeffrey G. Otteau, president of Otteau Valuation Group in East Brunswick, said of the demand for rentals. That’s due largely to the high cost of homeownership, the slow pace of the state’s economic recovery and the growing preference for apartments among millennials and even empty-nester baby boomers.

Through September, the most recent month available, local officials had issued permits for 8,638 multifamily units in 2014, less than 100 shy of the total for all of 2013, according to the state Department of Community Affairs. That’s also more than all of 2012.

“We’re definitely seeing an acceleration,” Otteau said. “Some of those projects have been delivered recently, some of them are just getting ready to break ground.”

Mill Creek is hoping to stand out from the crowd in part by finding the right locations and adapting its projects to its host communities. Take one of its other projects, in Jersey City’s Powerhouse Arts District, where the firm is redeveloping a 110-year-old brick warehouse as 366 loft-style apartments with high ceilings and exposed ductwork.

Joshua Burd

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