by Myles Ma
HACKENSACK- For a long time, talk of revitalizing downtown Hackensack has been conceptual, defined by architectural renderings and studies.
That changed Thursday, as officials made their first physical progress toward making those visions a reality, breaking ground on a $19.2 million, 222-unit residential property on a State Street block that had been left mostly empty in recent years.
“This demonstrates that this whole rehabilitation project is moving,” Stephen Lo Iacono, Hackensack City Manager, said. “It’s the first step. it’s going to be the first of many.”
The Meridia State complex is expected to be complete in about 18 months. At that point, it will include five stories of one and two-bedroom apartments, as well as a ground floor garage with 141 parking spots.
The developer, Meridia Metro Urban Renewal, a subsidiary of Capodagli Property Company, agreed to move forward with the project after the city council adopted a payment in lieu of taxes program for the project.
Under the PILOT agreement, Hackensack will receive $1,200 per unit for a total of about $266,400 a year, or 2 percent of the total cost of the project, depending on which is greater. The city currently collects $80,000 a year in taxes from the site.
Capodagli Property owner George Capodagli said the Meridia building would attract young, eager-to-spend millenials.
“I’m bringing the $20 martini people,” the audacious, bleach-blond developer said in a thick Brooklyn accent. “The rich and the famous.”
But whether they stay depends on how safe and welcome they feel in Hackensack, Capodagli said.
“These kids are coming from dormitories and suburban homes to cities,” he said. “They may act macho and look macho, but guess what? They’re not macho. They’re more mucho than macho. So you’ve got to make them feel safe.”
Lo Iacono said Hackensack already was a safe city.
“Crime really is not a major problem here and we’re going to be doing even better than we’ve been doing as this thing develops,” he said.
City officials hope the Meridia project is only the first step in a larger effort to revive downtown Hackensack. The city has eased building requirements to speed Main Street development.
Capodagli credited city officials for moving the Meridia project so quickly through the approval process.
“These people jumped through every hoop that needed to be jumped through,” he said.
Lo Iacono cited overly strict building regulations, particularly parking requirements, as among the chief reasons for Main Street’s decline. And like many Bergen County downtowns, the rise of big box stores and shopping malls in the 1960s and 70s hurt Hackensack’s Main Street.
But while there have been many plans over the years to rehabilitate downtown Hackensack, business owners and the city government haven’t aligned as they have now, Councilman John Labrosse said.
“It never had the full effort of the city, the businesses and the elected officials,” he said. “Now it’s a joint venture, and that’s what’s made the difference.”
With the Meridia project underway, Lo Iacono said there are four more developments in the pipeline for Main Street. He couldn’t reveal any details, but said they are all mixed-use, with retail or office space on the ground floor and residential units above.
It’s not clear whether Lo Iacono will be able to see those projects through. The last election brought a complete turnover to the city council, aside from LaBrosse, and the newcomers haven’t indicated whether Lo Iacono will stay on.
“I have no idea,” he said. “I wish I knew.”
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