2007-05-03 / Front Page

Firms make pitches for Nat'l Lead project

Proposals call for housing, retail, offices, sports, rail and a ferry
BY MICHAEL ACKER Staff Writer

BY MICHAEL ACKER
Staff Writer

"It's very good for the town."-  Dennis GrobelnySERA commissioner"It's very good for the town."- Dennis GrobelnySERA commissioner A dozen firms seeking to redevelop the former National Lead site presented their concepts to Sayreville officials this week, all agreeing the riverside location that straddles three major highways is highly desirable.

The public presentations were made over the course of two special meetings Monday and Tuesday before the Sayreville Economic Redevelopment Agency (SERA).

Eleven of the 12 companies that responded to the borough's Request for Qualifications (RFQ) presented their ideas for the 400-acre property, while the 12th firm, Spector Group, could not attend and requested to be heard on another date.

The Spector Group has in the past proposed 20,000 residential units for National Lead, but sent a letter to the agency recently stating that it is in the process of amending that plan so that it will be in accordance with the borough's master plan, which allows no more than 2,000 residential units on the site.

V. Paulius & Associates - which, like Spector Group, proposed a redevelopment concept in the borough's initial attempt to plan for the redevelopment last year - returned with a new proposal. Unlike last year, when it was the only developer to propose zero housing units, the Allendale-based firm is now calling for more than 1,000 units, in addition to a variety of retail and industrial uses.

Lawrence "Pat" Kramer, of V. Paulius, said the adjustments his firm made reflect the new urbanism model. He said it would like to stay away from the type of housing that attracts couples with children, in the interests of minimizing the impact on the school district. The housing V. Paulius proposes includes condominiums, apartments, courtyard terrace and townhouses.

It would also develop mixed-use commercial, entertainment and retail properties in a central location of the site, which would be surrounded by industrial properties. The plan also includes a river walk along the Raritan River and public recreation facilities.

Kramer said V. Paulius will agree to use only union labor, that it can provide SERA with a check in excess of $20 million to pay off the agency's loan from the county, and will comply with the borough's limit of 2,000 residential units on the site.

Arthur Falcone, of the Florida-based Falcone Group, said his company is a nationwide firm with strong financial resources.

"We have the experience and the financial wherewithal to do a job this size," Falcone said.

The Falcone Group is proposing 3,000 residential units, which SERA Commissioner Frederick Semoneit said is too many.

While Falcone said the firm will work to comply with the borough's master plan, he asked that the agency members have an open mind about allowing more senior housing. He said the residential properties are needed in order to make a sustainable community. There are ways to address the problem of bringing school-age children into the borough, he noted, including the development of condominiums and apartments that are less attractive to parents.

Falcone said the firm will use local, third-party general contractors.

Another of the interested firms, BAPS Northeast, of Piscataway, is a charitable organization that has projects around the world, according to Sanjiv Bhatt, a representatives of the organization.

The firm is proposing the Indian American Cultural Center [IACC] on the site, where Indian American people and others of all backgrounds would have a forum to meet. He said BAPS has similar projects across the globe. The facility would serve the whole community, however.

"It would give Sayreville a unique facility that would put Sayreville on the map," Bhatt said. "There is nothing like this in the Western Hemisphere."

The center would only require 100 acres of the National Lead site, according to BAPS representatives, who said the organization is prepared to work with SERA to develop the rest of the area.

Representatives said that the facility would not be a financial burden to the borough, and that a payment in lieu of taxes [PILOT] program or trust fund could be discussed as alternatives to taxation.

The BAPS proposal includes administrative offices, an assembly hall, a house of worship, a monument, a hotel and a yoga and meditation center.

Bhatt said the facility would attract many people and contribute to the economy of Sayreville. It would cost $146 million to start construction according to 2005 prices.

Another company making its case was Royal Albert's Palace, of the Fords section of Woodbridge. Representative Albert Jasani presented a partial proposal for a $20 million project with an Indian restaurant and a small ferry on 10 acres of the site along the waterfront. It would also include a banquet hall with a few hundred residential units. Jasani said union labor would be used in the construction.

Also among the presenters was Fairfield Residential, of Summit, a 29-year-old company that has built family housing and mixed-use developments in 30 markets, said senior area development partner Peter B. Lijoi. Investment partners like Morgan Stanley give the firm an ability to raise capital for the communities it builds, Lijoi said.

Fairfield is proposing a large outlet center anchored by a Target store, Lijoi said. The outlet center would be the only one of its kind between the shopping centers in Jackson Township and Elizabeth.

The company would seek to build 1,200 housing units, which would not be adult units, but the housing would not be attractive to young families.

"Our product is not cheap to build," Lijoi said, adding that the architecture would be complementary to the community.

An estimated 150 acres of the National Lead site can support housing and a sustainable amount of retail, he said, and Fairfield would consult with experts to provide the best match for the municipality to meet its affordable housing requirements.

Lijoi said his firm would work with the unions, but added that unions often do not construct residential properties.

Also, Fairfield would consider having a shuttle to the South Amboy train station for residents to use rather than having to drive out of the site.

LCOR Inc., of New York City, presented after Fairfield. Representatives emphasized their prior experience working on public and private joint venture projects and their past work in Middlesex County.

The company has experience cleaning up contaminated sites, such as the $885 million cleanup of the U.S. Patent and Trademark office in Alexandria, Va.

LCOR has used union labor with past projects, another representative told the agency; however, the company could not guarantee that 100 percent of the work on the former NL site would be done with union labor.

LCOR will try to maximize the number of housing units to be developed on the site, representatives said, but they will also try to stay within the parameters of the borough's limit of 2,000 units. They added that they are capable of paying the agency's loan from the county.

On the second day of presentations, SERA heard from O'Neill Properties Executive Vice President Richard F. Heany, who explained the company's vision for the redevelopment. He described the proposal of residential, office and retail properties as "a live, work and play community."

"I think that what is important is to have balance in the plan," Heany said.

The company's proposal will be within the borough's limit of 2,000 residential units, Heany said. It will also include mixed use and commercial properties with fountains and other architectural structures.

O'Neill Properties has 20 years of experience with brownfields redevelopment, Heany said.

"We are the right folks to do all facets of this redevelopment," Heany said.

Heany said the project will generate jobs, increase property values and enhance the tax base.

O'Neill Properties has completed projects on landfills, Superfund sites and other environmentally challenged locations, Heany said.

"We don't walk away from environmental issues," Heany said.

Heany estimated that 70 percent of the firm's projects are done using union labor. He added that if SERA requires that the project be done using 100 percent union labor, it will comply.

Heany also told the agency that the company is financially capable of paying SERA's debt to the county.

Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprises presented its proposal, with representatives saying that the company has the financial wherewithal to commit to the project. Forest City's plans for the site have not changed since it submitted them last year, unlike the Spector Group and V. Paulius. Forest City representatives emphasized the importance of reaching an agreement with National Lead on the cleanup issues.

Forest City representatives said they use predominantly union labor, adding that if local contractors are qualified, they will use them as well.

The roughly 2,000 residential units that Forest City is proposing will include the required affordable housing, according to company representatives.

ProLogis, of Cranbury, was the next to present. Representatives noted the company's financial resources, saying they have $26 billion in assets and a credit line of $4 billion.

SERA Executive Director Randy Corman told the Suburban that these figures, as well as those offered by other developers, are in the process of being confirmed by the agency.

The ProLogis presentation included references to the company's Port Reading business park in Carteret and Woodbridge. The environmental problems there led to millions of dollars worth of cleanup costs, according to the ProLogis presentation. The developer is prepared to work with Edison Wetlands Association and the various environmental agencies to get the cleanup done at National Lead.

ProLogis is proposing 244,000 square feet of office space and approximately 200 residential units.

Sayreville Development Partners LLC, which is made up of National Realty & Development Corp., of New York, and the English Group of New Jersey, presented after ProLogis.

Kenneth Scott represented Sayreville Development Properties during its presentation, saying that the company is prepared to make the payment to satisfy SERA's loan obligation to the county.

Scott emphasized the company's wish to minimize the impact of the project on various municipal services, adding that it wants to build age-restricted and age-targeted housing to minimize the project's impact on the school district.

Shopping, recreational and residential properties are in the proposal, Scott said, adding that it wants clean ratables to increase the tax base, not smokestacks and increased truck traffic in the borough.

Sayreville Development Partners will negotiate a timetable with SERA to complete the project with union labor, Scott said.

High-rise luxury residential units would be built on the eastern part of the site overlooking Raritan Bay, he said.

Scott also expressed interest in having a hotel, convention center and an indoor sports complex on the site. He is discussing the latter idea with the Ice House in Hackensack, he said. Office space would be built on the western part of the site, he noted.

CCMS Corp., the project manager overseeing the Riverbend Metropolitan Corp. project, proposed the construction of a performing arts area and a retail and restaurant area with cafes and other venues to attract visitors to the site.

Representatives from the company cited their architectural firm Lessard as having completed the Reston Town Center in northern Virginia, a high-value property in the region. They said that they are prepared to pay the agency's loan to the county, to meet the borough's limit on housing, and to work with union labor on the construction of the project.

Entertainment venues such as sports complexes will be central attractions that will bring in business for the proposed hotels, a CCMS representative said. He added that they want to include a marina, a riverfront trail and shuttle bus service as well.

SERA Commissioner Dennis Grobelny said he was encouraged by the amount of feedback and interest in the project that SERA has received.

"It's very good for the town," Grobelny said.

SERA Engineer David Samuel noted that the agency is under pressure to select a developer soon and pay off its loan from the county. However, he added, SERA must review the developers' qualifications closely before narrowing the companies down to a short list of three or four.

SERA Commissioner Raniero Travisano said he was impressed with the presentations.

"I look forward to working with all of them," Travisano said.

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