Somerset Development to lead transit village project in Somerville

Somerset Development has acquired a 31-acre site in Somerville from New Jersey Transit for $11 million, with plans to build a mixed-use complex including residences and more along NJ Transit’s Raritan Valley line, the developer and agency announced this week.

The Somerset Station project will include two rental apartment buildings totaling 371 units; 156 townhomes over 14 buildings; two parking garages; 4,000 square feet of retail space; and a 4,000-square-foot community center, Somerset Development said in a news release.

“This acquisition marks the culmination of 10 years of work between Somerset Development, the borough of Somerville and NJ Transit to realize our shared vision of transforming this former landfill site into a vibrant, mixed-use transit village,” Somerset Development CEO and President Ralph Zucker said in a prepared statement. “We are incredibly thankful to all of the partners who played a role in the planning and execution of this transaction, and look forward to beginning work on creating a development that can create a better, more prosperous future for downtown Somerville.”

Somerset Development will be the master developer, while AvalonBay Communities will build the apartment units and parking decks.

“AvalonBay is very excited to have the opportunity to help create a dynamic, transit-oriented development in Somerville’s wonderful, rapidly growing downtown,” AvalonBay Senior Vice President Ronald Ladell said in a statement. “We look forward to working with our colleagues at Somerset Development, and extend our gratitude to NJ Transit and the borough of Somerville as we begin the process of delivering this transformational mixed-use project.”

Somerset Development is leasing land for the parking decks, which will include 526 spaces, from NJ Transit over a 37-year term.

Construction will begin on the first part of the multiphase project later in the summer, Somerset Development said. The parking deck work will begin in 2020, NJ Transit added.

“After many years of planning the redevelopment of the whole landfill area, the borough council and myself are pleased to have had the opportunity to work with Mr. Zucker, Somerset Development and NJ Transit on the concept design of the Somerset Station project,” Somerville Mayor Dennis Sullivan said in a statement. “This milestone project, with its variety of housing alternatives, public areas and community spaces, will offer a new and exciting neighborhood for future residents of Somerville to enjoy.”

Sullivan noted the project will link the downtown with a 17-acre open space area, and include a road link to Route 206.

The developer noted that the parking decks will replace existing commuter lots near the train station. NJ Transit commuters will be accommodated through secondary parking lots during the construction process.

“After more than a decade of delays, I am proud that my team at NJ Transit was able to advance this project to this next stage,” NJ Transit CEO and President Kevin Corbett said in a statement. “Mass transit provides cleaner, greener ways for people to get to work, school and entertainment. Planned communities that combine transit and a walkable lifestyle benefit everyone, and we are pleased to be a part of this initiative.”

Investors Bank provided financing for the acquisition.

The project has an estimated completion date of 2023.

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O’ Dwyer of Enovate Engineering aims to differentiate her firm in staid construction world

As CEO of Enovate Engineering, Áine O’ Dwyer said there currently is a plethora of construction work for her to explore in the tri-state area. 

And she wants to approach it all with entirely new ideas and perspectives.  

“A lot of firms in the industry are set in their ways, but we’ve broken through that barrier,” O’ Dwyer said. “If there is a better, more efficient way of doing something, well, then, let’s explore that now. Why set things up in a way that is primarily outdated?” 

O’ Dwyer is one of the youngest CEOs in her industry, having yet to reach the age of 40. 

But, after hailing from her family’s dairy farm in Ireland and then owning her own multimillion-dollar construction management and engineering firm in Cranford, she has now doubled the size of her business in just a little more than a year. 

“It is my family back home and those Irish country fields that taught me about the hard work and perseverance that was necessary for my career,” O’ Dwyer said. 

O’ Dwyer attended the only technical high school in her village, she said, having grown up in County Tipperary in Ireland. 

It was there that she was exposed to opportunities in STEM and competitive sports — both of which brought her to the U.S., where she played Division I basketball and soccer and earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil and environmental engineering from New Jersey Institute of Technology. 

“I don’t miss the 5 a.m. practices, but competitive sports did actually prepare me for work in the construction field,” O’ Dwyer said. 

O’ Dwyer accepted an internship and a follow-up job offer with The Conti Group in 2008, working for nearly a decade on various large-scale construction and engineering projects. 

Some of Enovate’s gender-balanced team.

“I started out as a field engineer and, over the years, worked my way up the corporate ladder to become a project engineer, project manager, superintendent and, finally, vice president of engineering,” she said. “I learned my biggest lessons from some of the most difficult and technically complex projects that I worked on, projects that took me out of my comfort zone and forced me to figure things out that I was not previously aware of.” 

In March 2017, The Conti Group created another company, Conti Professional Services, and made O’ Dwyer its CEO. 

“When you work with teams and many different personalities, you have to be able to navigate through that,” she said. “How do you motivate everyone? It usually is not just in one way.” 

Then, in December 2017, O’ Dwyer said she took ownership of the company. 

“I approached The Conti Group and said that I wanted to have more than emotional ownership in the company, as it was a company I had run from the ground up,” she said. “I wanted to put it to paper.” 

Her employer’s response was unusually favorable, she said.

“Professional services was a tiny piece of such a large firm and I had developed enough of a rapport and professional relationship with my employer that we were able to negotiate,” O’ Dwyer said. 

O’ Dwyer rebranded and relocated as Enovate Engineering in Cranford after buying out and spinning away from The Conti Group in Edison. 

“We were starting all over again,” she said. “And there were already a lot of construction management and engineering firms out there — so how would we separate ourselves?” 

By becoming a technology-focused innovative solutions provider in the industry, O’ Dwyer added. 

Today, Enovate Engineering performs construction management services and has a research and technology division to address solutions that don’t currently exist for problems experienced out in the field. 

“For example, we do a lot of geostructural monitoring, where a construction project in New York City might be going on next to a historic building, and, with real estate being so expensive and there being concerns over lawsuits, we monitor the building for things such as too much vibration or cracking,” O’ Dwyer said. “We also develop some of our own hardware and software to autonomously monitor and make decisions and changes from our office, as opposed to always having to be out in the field.” 

Enovate Engineering does all this with a gender-balanced team of 12.

“We strike a nice balance between being a small, nimble firm with big capabilities, made up of team members with mega-project experience,” O’ Dwyer said. 

At first, O’ Dwyer added, the firm was working on small-scale, quick-hit type projects. 

“Companies didn’t know us as a stand-alone firm, so we had to build up our qualifications,” she said. 

But, now that projects of a much higher caliber are rolling in, with Enovate Engineering completing up to 40 projects annually,                     O’ Dwyer said she wants to continue to double the size of her team over the next couple of years.  

“For example, we just finished up a project with the Empire State Building and also will be working on the New York Islanders arena at Belmont Park,” O’ Dwyer said. “I came from a company that worked on mega-projects. For example, the last project I worked on before I left was a $2.3 billion international project. 

“I want to become a key decision maker for projects of that size again.” 

Youth and wisdom

Áine O’ Dwyer said she worked her way toward success as one of the youngest women in her field by aligning herself with the right company. 

“I was lucky enough to be surrounded by managers and owners of a firm who gave me opportunities, regardless of my age or sex,” she said. 

But there certainly were scenarios throughout her career in which O’ Dwyer faced “a lot of gray hair in the room,” she said. 

“People may make some biased decisions based on appearance, but, at the end of the meeting, the people who have a seat at the table are those who speak up, present the most relevant discussion points and are able to drive decisions,” O’ Dwyer said. “So, usually by the end of a meeting, the concerns of key decision makers had been alleviated and they were convinced I knew what I was talking about.” 

That is sound advice for woman working in male-dominated industries, O’ Dwyer added, with both the construction and engineering industries severely lacking when it comes to female representation. 

“It has gotten a lot better at the entry- and mid-levels, but at the executive level, it is still much lower than it needs to be,” she said. “But, don’t be deterred by others’ first impressions. Just maintain your level of composure and when you are asked questions, answer confidently. 

“That always has worked for me.”

Conversation Starter

To learn more about Enovate Engineering, email:, or call 908-363-5299.

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University Place, transformative project on Jersey City’s West Side, celebrates another milestone

They brought 10 shovels to the ceremonial groundbreaking.

They didn’t have enough.

Generations ago, that may have led to a cliché joke about Hudson County. Wednesday morning, on the West Side of Jersey City, it represented just how many officials from top companies, as well as higher education and governmental agencies, are working together to start the second phase of the transformational University Place project.

This groundbreaking was for the start of Rivet 2, which will feature 199 residential units and approximately 10,000 feet of service-oriented ground retail.

File photo
A rendering of the University Place project in Jersey City.

The unit follows the success of Rivet 1, a 163-unit luxury apartment building that opened last summer and already is more than 80 percent full.

The two buildings are part of a master plan that calls for an eight-building live-work-play (and learn) destination that will feature more than 1,000 residential units, 120,000 square feet of retail, a state-of-the-art performing arts center (which will house the Joffrey Ballet School — coming over from New York City), cafes, three upscale restaurants and plenty of green space.

For Sue Henderson, president of New Jersey City University, it is a perfect marriage of public and private interests.

“This is bringing together a real live, work and play space with a higher education and an arts component,” she told ROI-NJ. “That’s why we are calling it University Place. It is going to be a place to be — a place where the city can grow.

“As an anchor institution, you are supposed to be reaching out to your community and being part of the city. You want to be in and of your city.”

Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop is certainly grateful for her exuberance.

“When you think about the transformation that’s taking place on the West Side, we’re lucky to have NJCU as an anchor,” he said. “They are very proactive, thinking about development, and we want to be partners with them.”

Many others do, as well.

The development partners were led by Hampshire Cos. (Jon and Jimmy Hanson), Claremont Cos. (Richard Sciaretta) and Circle Squared Alternative Investments (Jeffrey Sica).

They see the potential, too.

“The successful leasing of Rivet 1’s retail and residential components is a strong indicator that our vision for Jersey City’s west end is shared by residents and businesses alike,” Sciaretta said.

Rafael Perez, chair of the NJCU board of trustees, thanked them, and all of the other contributors, including Freeholder Bill O’Dea and Strategic Development Group CEO Tony Bastardi.

“The university is not equipped to do this (by ourselves),” he said. “This is a partnership.

File photo
The Rivet 1 building at Jersey City’s University Place development.

“It’s gratifying being here today — after many years — knowing what it takes to make these projects come to fruition.”

Fulop, who thanked Ward A Councilperson Denise Ridley and Ward B Councilperson Mira Prinz-Arey, along with Council President Rolando Lavarro, said the day’s event marked another day forward in the town.

Fulop, in fact, already was looking forward to future groundbreakings, including ones for Bayfront, the transformative 100-acre project one block over that is gearing up to start.

“If you think about what this place is going to look like five years from now, it’s going to be entirely different,” he said. “The RFP for the first four buildings of Bayfront should go out later this month.”

Together, he said, they will have great impact — and symbolism.

“I think the two will really complement each other,” he said. “The fact that the first Rivet is ahead of schedule is only going to serve us on Bayfront. For the people who are skeptical about whether the market can support it, or people want to be here, Rivet is a testament to a fact that it’s ‘Yes.’

“This is becoming just another Jersey City community that is changing.”

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Jersey City luxury tower reaches 75% leasing

A Jersey City luxury apartment building has reached 75% leasing after a five-month rental effort, according to developers Ironstate Development Co. and Panepinto Properties.

Leasing at the new 51-story building known as 90 Columbus, which features 539 luxury rentals in the downtown area, is run by the Marketing Directors. More than 400 of the units have been rented out since November, the developers said.

“Like Jersey City itself, 90 Columbus reflects an evolution in the lifestyle experience sought by today’s renter, which is centered around the best of city living,” Michael Barry, Ironstate’s CEO and president, said in a prepared statement. “We’ve successfully attractged a wide range of residents through great design, an amenity package that delivers both recreational and communal work spaces, and a vibrant location with walkable access to neighborhood dining, retail, nightlife, culture and transportation.”

The tower is the fourth and final phase of The Columbus Collection, a mixed-use project that totals 1,484 residences, a hotel, parking garage and retail space.

“The Grove Street neighborhood has evolved into arguably the most exciting neighborhood in Jersey City, with a comprehensive offering of lifestyle attractions that embody Jersey City living,” Joseph Panepinto, Panepinto Properties’ CEO and president, said in a statement. “90 Columbus enhances the overall setting while placing residents in the very heart of the neighborhood. The extraordinary pace of leasing activity we’ve experienced certainly underscores the value and appeal of that.”

At 90 Columbus, rents start at $2,995 a month for studios, $2,950 a month for one-bedroom units and $4,120 a month for two-bedroom residences. Immediate occupancy is available.

“Jersey City has matured in every way imaginable and earned a reputation of its own as a world-class destination in terms of arts, culture, dining and nightlife — which enhances its inherent attribute, proximity to Manhattan,” Jacqueline Urgo, Marketing Directors president, said in a statement. “In 90 Columbus, Ironstate Development and Panepinto Properties have delivered a truly remarkable property that elevates the overall lifestyle to new heights.”

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Major gifts to George Street Playhouse will help elevate new home at NBPAC

The largest gifts in George Street Playhouse history — totaling $7.75 million — will be recognized with the naming of the new Elizabeth Ross Johnson Theater and the Arthur Laurents Theater.

Moreover, the recently announced gifts will help further solidify the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center as a premier center for the performing arts in the state.

Chris Paladino, president of New Brunswick Development Corp. and the developer of the $172 million NBPAC, said the gifts represent another milestone moment for arts in the city.

“This is an exciting moment for NBPAC and the city of New Brunswick,” he said. “NBPAC continues to deliver on its promise to transform New Brunswick’s Downtown Cultural Arts District.”

The 450,000-square-foot, 23-story redevelopment initiative — one of the biggest public-private partnership deals in state history — is currently under construction at the former site of George Street Playhouse and Crossroads Theatre Company.

The project includes $60 million of arts infrastructure, such as two state-of-the-art theaters that will allow four resident companies to come together in a place where there used to only be two, Paladino said.

“People with no understanding of the background say, ‘You tore down two theatres to build two theatres and you spent $60 million to do that?’” he said.

But NBPAC will continue to be home to George Street Playhouse, the first professional producing theatre in New Brunswick, since 1974, and Crossroads Theatre Company, the more than 40-year-old recipient of the 1999 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre in the U.S. In addition, NBPAC will house the American Repertory Ballet and the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University-New Brunswick.

Bringing them all together is a key, Paladino said.

“Prior to, Mason Gross was not really part of the downtown professional arts scene in New Brunswick,” he said. “This will allow Rutgers students to work in a place alongside equity (talent) with a whole different level of enthusiasm and engagement. And the American Repertory Ballet was not able to perform their full season in one place.

“They can (all) now perform opera and ballet, whereas they could not before due to (limited) wing and stage space. We solved the facility issues.”

George Street Playhouse and Crossroads Theatre Company also used the stages to rehearse prior to the creation of NBPAC.

“But, now, we’ve built six rehearsal studios that all mimic the sizes of our stages and are therefore able to pick up nights in between runs of shows to do other things,” Paladino said.

Betty Wold Johnson gifted $5 million to George Street Playhouse in honor of her and Robert Wood Johnson III’s philanthropic and artistically-minded daughter, Elizabeth Ross.

The Elizabeth Ross Johnson Theatre will seat 463 and will boast an 86-foot stage, an orchestra pit for up to 70 instrumentalists, a 74-foot fly tower for suspended stage scenery, a green room and a trap system below.

The Laurents/Hatcher Foundation gifted $2.75 million to George Street Playhouse in support of its continued development and production of new plays and musicals, with Arthur Laurents having premiered nine of his plays at the theater while writing the books for musicals such as “Gypsy” and “West Side Story” and the screenplays for “The Way We Were” and “The Turning Point.”

The Arthur Laurents Theater will seat 259 facing a 60-foot stage.

“This is money that goes toward the endowment of our resident companies,” Paladino said. “For example, if there is $10 million raised, we take 20 percent of that and put it in reserves, so, if ever we need to replace lighting or sound equipment, for example, we already will have it set aside.

“The rest of the money goes toward supporting our companies and their art.”

“We are grateful and honored by the generosity of Betty Wold Johnson, the Elizabeth Ross Johnson Charitable Trust and the Laurents/Hatcher Foundation,” Kelly Ryman, managing director of George Street Playhouse, said. “As we prepare to take residence in this new, state-of-the-art performing arts center, the confidence our benefactors have in the work we do takes on new meaning.”

NBPAC is the result of the efforts of a number of entities, including DEVCO, the city of New Brunswick, Rutgers University, Middlesex County, New Jersey Economic Development Authority, New Brunswick Cultural Center, Pennrose LLC and New Brunswick Parking Authority, among nearly a dozen more organizations.

New Brunswick Mayor Jim Cahill said it will be a game-changer.

“The New Brunswick Performing Arts Center represents the absolute best in the arts, public and private partnerships and state-of-the-art entertainment and culture,” he said.

“We look forward to raising the curtain this year to welcome the next chapter of our outstanding performing arts scene in these new and modern spaces, named in honor of two beloved champions of the arts and culture.”

NBPAC has booked 314 performances for its 2019-2020 season thus far, Paladino said, with the goal of booking nearly 400 by opening night Sept. 4.

“We are planning a collaborative VIP (performance) with our four resident companies,” he said.

NBPAC staff will be working within the facility by July 31, Paladino added, giving them a month to prepare for the upcoming season.

“DEVCO will provide a variety of professional services in the way of an executive director, finance and accounting and the like,” Paladino said. “Middlesex County, which is moving over all of its arts infrastructure into this building, will provide professional services and educational programming by way of their Arts Consortium. And we are hiring a director of operations and a production coordinator, to be announced shortly.”

They have their work cut out for them. In addition to planning for nonresident rental opportunities, Paladino said they also are speaking and working with various arts organizations across the country to implement live television performances, arts festivals and programming in music and literature.

“We also would like to use our lobby spaces for visual arts presentations, with artists being able to use them as galleries,” Paladino said.

In addition to the arts infrastructure, NBPAC will include 30,000 square feet of office space for Middlesex County, a 344-space parking garage and 207 residential units, complete with an outdoor roof deck and a fitness center.

“We’ve set 20 percent of these apartments aside as affordable units and we are working with the Actors Fund to try to encourage artists to take a look at them,” Paladino said. “We want to include artists such as choreographers, musicians, playwrights and actors in the community by having them actually live here.

“The Broadway community already is seeing that they’ve got a state-of-the-art facility just 30 miles from New York City, where actors can both live and work closer to home.”

Paladino said NBPAC is going to soon be an exciting hub of activity, not just for the four resident companies, but for many other innovative projects.

“So much of New Brunswick’s next chapter will revolve around the arts,” he said.

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Optimism defines outlook for Newark at annual real estate forecast event

There was talk about making sure everyone worked together, the need to have stronger transportation infrastructure, the need to make sure the city connected its office and its retail (and have more office), the need to make sure the city’s business district was working hand-and-hand with the city’s outer wards — and a total takedown of Newark Penn Station and its light rail system (more on that here).

But don’t be confused, the Newark Regional Business Partnership’s always-anticipated annual Newark Real Estate Market Forecast event was not a downer. In fact, it was filled with optimism like never before.

A panel of development industry leaders and a room full of stakeholders frequently used the word “bullish” to describe their take on the city’s current economy and future.

It’s a phrase the veterans in the room said they’ve been waiting a lifetime to hear.

“I think the message is we’ve come an awfully long way,” moderator Frank Ferruggia said.

Ferruggia, a longtime partner and real estate attorney at Newark-based McCarter & English, said he is astounded by what he is seeing.

“You could never have envisioned some of the things we are saying in Newark today if you were here 40 years ago,” he said. “These are dramatic, dramatic developments.

“Is there more to be done? Of course. But we’ve come an awfully long way and we want to celebrate the progress that we’ve made.”

Progress can be marked in a lot of ways.

Richard Dunn, senior vice president at Paramount Assets, discussed how his firm has made a big push in Newark in recent years because of the city’s momentum.

John Saraceno, co-founder and managing principal of Onyx Equities — the group that led the recent purchase of One, Two and Four Gateway Center — said his group is all-in, too.

Newark, he said, is where it’s at.

“The thing that Newark has — and there’s not another city in the state that comes even remotely close — is the HQs that are in this city,” Saraceno said. “You have Prudential, you have Panasonic, you have Audible, you have PSE&G. Mars is coming here.

“Think about that, there’s not another urban community (that can match that). The idea that this is their location is profound. You talk about cultural assets, you have the Prudential Center and you have (the New Jersey Performing Arts Center). Those two don’t exist in the same anywhere else. I mean, they’re here.”

So are the dogs.

Tim Lizura, a longtime leader of the state’s Economic Development Authority and the current head of real estate and capital projects at NJPAC, said that means a lot.

“People will talk about the stroller test: Do you see people walking downtown with strollers?” he said. “We’re not there yet downtown, but you know where we are: We are seeing people walk around with dogs. And you can’t get the strollers until you get dogs.

“I will tell you, at night, in the morning, I see people in the afternoon walking dogs, and that is a huge bellwether for the success of downtown.”

Another marker was being named one of Amazon’s 20 finalists for its HQ2 second headquarters project.

And even though the city wasn’t ultimately selected (though some feel that process is still going on), Peter Bronsnick, an executive vice president at SJP Properties, said Newark may be better off in the long run.

“To me, there is a silver lining — and a tremendous one — considering the efforts of everyone in this room and the efforts of the people that were directly involved,” he said.

“I personally want to see a more diverse tenant base (rather than relying) on one tenant and one company to transform a city. I think we can do better. And I think that the efforts of everyone in this room is going to get us there. I’d like to see life science, I’d like to see technology, I’d like to see financial firms.

“To me, (Amazon) is somewhat of a blessing in disguise. What it taught us was how effective we can be when we combine our efforts and the different groups within Newark that collaborated to get that done.”

Dunn seconded the thought.

“We’re very bullish on Newark and the market here,” he said. “However, there are going to be pitfalls, and we need to work collaboratively with one another.

“We cannot be adversaries, because, when you’re adversaries, that’s when problems start and then you get into a bind, and you get into a quagmire.

“We also need the city to stay consistent. They need to stay on track with their vision as well, and work with developers and business here in Newark to ensure the viability of the future.”

The future, the group said, was bright.

How bright: Ferruggia pointed out the one negative that was missing.

“I find that interesting — and I’ve been coming to these panels for many, many years — that, this year, not a single member of the panel mentioned crime and security as an issue with respect to development,” he said. “And I think that speaks volumes.

“That doesn’t mean it’s not something that people think about. It doesn’t mean it’s not something that you have to pay attention to. The fact that it wasn’t No. 1 on everybody’s minds I think is as a substantial statement as to the progress that Newark has made and is making.”

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