by Hannan Adely
HACKENSACK- The start of construction at the Meridia Metro apartment building marks a turning point for the city as it ushers in an ambitious plan to overhaul its downtown, local leaders said at a groundbreaking ceremony Thursday.
The 222-unit building is the first such project in the city since officials adopted the Downtown Rehabilitation Plan a year ago to make it easier for developers to invest in the area. And it is among a trio of such major residential projects, including one freshly announced Thursday evening.
“Today is the first shovel in the ground, the brick-and-mortar proof that, yes, this rehabilitation plan is for real,” said City Manager Stephen Lo Iacono. “Yes, it’s moving forward.”
Meridia Metro Hackensack will feature 86 one-bedroom and 136 two-bedroom apartments on five floors over parking on State Street.
Catering to the “millennial” generation, the building will have modern amenities including a gym, an Xbox gaming center, a rooftop terrace with firepit, and a dog park with grooming station, said developer George Capodagli.
“I’m bringing in the $20-martini people — the rich and famous,” said Capodagli, calling it the generation that loves to spend. He later said monthly rents would range from $1,600 to $2,000.
The project will cost about $30 million, and construction is expected to conclude in January 2015, said Capodagli, owner of Capodagli Property Co. of Pequannock and its subsidiary, Meridia Metro Urban Renewal.
Capodagli said the building was planned to feel like a community: “This millennial group — they want to feel like they belong,” he said.
It’s up to the city to keep them there for the long haul, he said.
“They’ve got to feel safe in your streets, and they’ve got to feel welcome,” he said. “They feel like an outcast and they’re taking the train and going elsewhere.”
In March, the City Council designated part of State Street as an “area in need of redevelopment” and approved financial and parking incentives for the apartment building.
Meridia Metro Urban Renewal was granted a 30-year tax abatement. Annually for the first six years, the developer will pay either $1,200 per unit for a total of $266,400, or 2 percent of the total project cost, whichever is greater. The payment will increase incrementally over the remaining years of the agreement.
The city also agreed to lease 120 parking spaces at a nearby municipal parking garage for residents’ use at a cost of $64,800 annually for the first five years, with increases in subsequent years. Shared parking is one of incentives the city included in its Downtown Rehabilitation Plan to lure developers to build in a 39-block area known as the Main Street corridor.
The plan loosens zoning and parking restrictions and establishes an easier building-approval process. It also calls for infrastructure improvements and two-way traffic on Main Street.
The downtown is now home to a diverse but haphazard collection of stores and restaurants in low-rise buildings, with few residences. Many people travel there for work, but depart by evening. City leaders, however, say the downtown is poised to be a destination in Bergen County for people to live, work, shop and dine. They note that it’s home to the county seat, a university and a major medical center, and it has ample highway and bus access.
“Nobody in North Jersey can beat Hackensack’s location,” said Jerome Lombardo, chairman of the Upper Main Alliance business organization.
Meridia isn’t the only notable new housing debuting in Hackensack.
On Friday, officials cut the ribbon on the new Avalon Hackensack at Riverside on Friday, located farther north next to The Shops at Riverside shopping center. The two mid-rise buildings at Avalon include 226 apartments ranging from studios to three-bedroom homes, with amenities including an outdoor pool, grilling and picnic areas, resident lounge and fitness center.
And on Thursday evening 6/6, the Upper Main Alliance held a business expo where board member Eric Anderson announced a new Main Street project. He said his realty company, Alexander Anderson Real Estate Group, had worked with developers and sellers in assembling properties with plans to put up a full-service luxury residential building of more than 250,000 square feet. Anderson said plans would be submitted to the city this summer.
He declined to preliminarily disclose the location, but added “This is going to revolutionize Main Street; it’s a big, big project.”
City officials say the Meridia building will lead the way for more such developers and businesses to set up shop downtown and will draw foot traffic to help existing Main Street businesses.
Developers and investors are already expressing high interest in the area, said Lo Iacono, adding that he gets calls from them nearly every day.
North Jersey investor Billy Procida said Hackensack has a lot of offer, but languished for years as other urban areas such as Jersey City prospered with good planning. Now, he’s ready for Hackensack’s turn.
“We’re all over it and we want to invest in it,” said Procida, president of Englewood-based Procida Funding and Advisers. “I think Hackensack is one of the greatest opportunities” for investing.
City officials and planners have worked on downtown rehabilitation planning for years and are just now seeing it come to fruition.
But four of the five council members are not returning to office, and the incoming council has suggested it’ll replace some City Hall staff and contract professionals.
Still, the elected council members say they’re committed to continuing support for redevelopment downtown.
“We’re glad to see that there is some progress finally being made on the redevelopment of Main Street, and we hope this project is successful,” said Councilman John Labrosse, who is returning to office.
Members of the new council say they’ll ensure the process is open and transparent by making documents available online; analyzing financial impact on city services and appointing a commission to review redevelopment efforts citywide.
“We want to make sure everyone — regardless of whether they own one or two properties and regardless of political affiliation — is treated fairly,” said Councilwoman-elect Kathleen Canestrino.
City leaders say new housing ratables also will help lower the tax burden on other property owners.
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