The story of Jersey City’s waterfront has been written over three decades — and you could easily tell it through the eyes of LeFrak.
The revered development firm has been there since the mid-1980s, transforming what were blighted rail yards into the 600-acre, mixed-use Newport neighborhood that’s still growing today. There’s no denying it’s a measured approach to building out a master-planned community, but LeFrak executives say it’s been about responding to the market and filling different needs — from apartments and hotels to office towers and amenities.
“That’s been the case from the beginning, and we’re still expanding in all directions,” said David Thom, LeFrak’s vice president of design and development. He later added: “Doing it incrementally — certainly it does require some patience, but it lets us adjust as we go along.”
The most recent addition to Newport is Laguna, a lavish 158-unit apartment tower that opened last summer and was fully leased by December. And the 19-story building abuts a 2-year-old park dubbed Newport Green, an amenity that Thom said is key to unlocking the remaining sites on the northern end of the property.
So as LeFrak prepares for its next move on the waterfront — in the midst of a citywide building boom for Jersey City — executives with the firm spoke to NJBIZ about the Newport community and the market as a whole.
David Thom is LeFrak’s vice president of design and development and has been working in Jersey City for LeFrak for the past 14 years.
Richard Wernick is LeFrak’s executive leasing director.
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NJBIZ: What’s been the overall response since Laguna opened?
Richard Wernick: It’s been right around a year since the first residents started to take occupancy. The response has been great. … We’ve had very strong tenant retention there, and the units that are turning over are renting very quickly, so there continues to be demand for a product such as Laguna in the market there.
NJBIZ: Has the project taught you anything about how the market has changed over the last few years?
RW: I think the market has just become more sophisticated as the area has become more developed. At Newport we continue to grow and we continue to see that there is room to push on the boundaries of the asking rents and the rents per square foot, and with that there are expectations for a higher-end product. So we continue to see it moving upward.