Westfield redevelopment proposal seeks balance between future and past

Jessica Perry//February 6, 2023//

Westfield redevelopment proposal seeks balance between future and past

Jessica Perry//February 6, 2023//

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Plans for One Westfield Place were revealed last fall – a 730,000-square-foot redevelopment proposal designed to preserve the Union County municipality’s unique character, while also setting the city up for future success and growth. To achieve that balance, conversations about what shape it would take started in 2018 and continue today. The exchange of ideas is important to the company behind the effort — self-described “listening developer” Streetworks Development, the real estate development business of Hudson’s Bay Co.

With the city – HBC | Streetworks’ partner in the effort – moving closer to a vote on adopting the plan, feedback from the developer’s more than 7,000 interactions, thus far, resulted in updates to the scheme that were unveiled at the end of January.

The changes decrease the number of residential units slated for the project, lower proposed building heights, adjust parking considerations, enhance public space options and seek to further optimize traffic. In the redevelopment plan, prepared by Topology, the first stated goal is to create a “program that will maintain and enhance the orientation of downtown as the center of Westfield and support the long-term economic well-being of the Town.” Part of achieving that goal comes from the addition of residential and office properties.

One Westfield Place would add four properties with housing options ranging from apartments to townhomes and lofts. In the updates, residences at the proposed Clark & North site were cut by 18 units to a total of 16 townhomes; a change that came as a direct result of the conversation Streetworks is promulgating. “We heard really consistent feedback that that building was a concern, that it was just more apartments and a little big for that location and that traffic pattern there,” Doug Adams, senior vice president for Streetworks, told NJBIZ. “So, we took that to heart and evolved that.”

HBC | Streetworks Development's Preview Center in downtown Westfield include a full model of the city.
HBC | Streetworks Development’s Preview Center in downtown Westfield includes a full model of the city. The self-described “listening developer” kicked off a series of information sessions at the Preview Center in December 2022. – JESSICA PERRY


The change also ties in with a takeaway from Westfield’s Master Plan Reexamination from 2019, according to Adams, “which was the community was looking for housing alternatives to the single-family homes they may sell at some point.” The townhomes, he said, “created a variation. … It made sense. So, you know, there’s an example where we thought the public input made the plan better.”

That kind of living space could also prove useful if new corporate tenants are attracted to the town and creating new office opportunities is a major component of the plan to ensure Westfield’s future economic well-being. And while the office concepts have undergone some changes throughout the process – most recently removing one floor from the BLVD office buildings, which under a prior change was split into two structures from one – that speaks more to keeping in mind the character of the city rather than undercutting the importance of the component as an economic driver down the line.

Adams did acknowledge that the amount of office space was raised as a concern – 310,000 square feet across the BLVD buildings and the former Lord & Taylor site – however, he said Streetworks is “really bullish on office space.” How and where people work is continuing to evolve but that doesn’t change the fact that according to a study from the developer, more than 75% of the existing office stock in New Jersey is functionally obsolete.

“It’s more than 30 or 40 years old and it’s increasingly less of interest to the companies that are in New Jersey today and companies that want to be in New Jersey or want to expand,” Adams said. “So, we are very bullish that that sort of next generation of office will be really desirable to the industries that are here and thriving.” And while things may not seem optimistic in the sector, the flight to quality that has made older and lower-class office space so abundant suggests that office occupiers will continue to seek out new leases over renewals. According to JLL, 62% of transactions for more than 10,000 square feet were for new leases, marking the highest percentage in more than 10 years.

Adams said they “heard loud and clear, there was concern over the height of the office buildings.” Even with setbacks to visually accommodate for the height, the feedback indicated it was still too high. So, they brought it down a floor. And while some would still be more comfortable seeing that scale reduced even further, Adams said the volume of the space is one of the key components to the project’s potential. “[W]e really feel strongly that we needed a critical mass of office,” he said. “And we felt it is an appropriate scale right there at the train station between North and South Avenue.” The office space, and its occupants, would also create new customers because “it also puts a lot of people on the street during the day, which helps the downtown businesses,” Adams said.

Thinking long-term

Westfield has a certain undeniable charm. But, “design and function are no longer aligned with either market realities or best practices for downtown development,” according to the Topology plan. Looking ahead, there is a need to “Promote a development program that will maintain and enhance the orientation of downtown as the center of Westfield and support the long-term economic well-being of the Town.”

One Westfield Place
Plans for the adaptive reuse of the Lord & Taylor building in Westfield revealed last fall, shown, have since been updated. – HBC | STREETWORKS DEVELOPMENT

According to Streetworks’ economic impact study, the residential and office components of One Westfield Place would support 1,371 direct on-site jobs and generate $148.55 million in direct labor income. Across the state, those figures grow to 2,798 total jobs, $246.88 million in labor income and $558.36 million annually in total economic output – $442.57 million of which would be realized in the county.

Annually, the proposed project will generate $250,000 in local tax revenues, $30,000 in tax revenue for Union County and $11.38 million in tax revenue for the state, according to the assessment.

During the city’s 2019 Master Plan Reexamination process, 70% of those surveyed as part of collected community feedback said they had moved to Westfield for its downtown. Streetworks has embedded itself in that space, taking up residence on Elm Street for its preview center. It’s here – where HBC | Streetworks says it’s welcomed approximately 1,560 guests since opening its doors last October – that the proposal is brought to life to try to finetune it. How do the stated goals and ideals of a future Westfield translate into physical plans. Or as Adams put it: “What do people feel that means to the place?”

Feedback continues to come from the municipality as well, but the preview center is focused on the community itself, its input and its engagement. And like the plan, the preview center is adaptable in kind.

“The center is designed to adapt and evolve,” Adams said. “There’s a lot of those moving walls and things that we can update and create. There are virtual digital assets that can be updated and put forth. And then the model itself, which … is a larger context model, includes all of downtown and much more than our site.”

The model, which greets visitors in the second room of the preview center, offers a full vision not just of the One Westfield Place project, but for the entire 6.72-square-mile township.

Though some vocal opposition has arisen recently, the redevelopment plan was referred to the city’s planning board following a nearly five-hour long meeting of the Westfield Town Council Jan. 31, which included a presentation of the proposal. Addressing the concerns, Mayor Shelley Brindle stood by the plan and the potential it holds for the township.

HBC | Streetworks Development's Preview Center
The model, which greets visitors in the second room of HBC | Streetworks Development’s Preview Center in downtown Westfield, offers a full vision not just of the One Westfield Place project, but for the entire 6.72-square-mile township. – JESSICA PERRY

“We absolutely feel like we are stewards of this town and we feel we have an obligation to make decisions that are in the long-term best interest of the community,” she said during the meeting, noting that she feels she’s been consistent since before she was first elected to office in 2018 – and after she was reelected in 2021 – that “small solutions” were not going to be enough. Brindle also acknowledged the importance of seeing a plan versus just hearing about it. “I know people often don’t react until they actually see pictures … I get it,” she said, adding that she believes the municipality has been “really transparent and forthcoming in our information — it doesn’t feel that way because people don’t understand it until they see pictures.”

Still, she said she has confidence in the process. “I have a significant amount of confidence in the professionals and experts that got us here, and most importantly I feel so confident in the intention and the commitment of what this is going to do for Westfield, for my kids,” Brindle said.

The redevelopment plan is scheduled to be presented at a Feb. 6 Planning Board meeting to determine if it is consistent with the Master Plan, after which a public hearing and vote on the adoption of the One Westfield Place plan is scheduled for Feb. 14, subject to affirmation by the planning board.

If seeing is really the key to believing, the community can continue to engage with the proposal at Streetworks’ preview center.

“[T]here’s people at the preview center today continuing the outreach that will continue well into the future,” Adams said. Looking ahead, he said that Streetworks hopes the plan “will be voted on [according to] the schedule that the mayor and the council have laid out.”

Then, this prologue will give way to the actual beginning.

“We still have to go through the normal site plan approval process for the project, just like every other project that includes architecture, materials, specifics on the buildings, all of that is yet to be designed,” Adams said. But true to form for the “listening developer,” he added that “it’ll be designed with community input and public outreach continuing.”