FORT LEE, NJ-The 16-acre downtown site has been vacant for more than three decades, and the current project has been in the works for more than three years, but site work is finally slated to begin next week for Centuria, a mixed-use project valued at $750 million. Divided by Martha Washington Way and located near the entrance to the George Washington Bridge to Manhattan, Centuria will encompass 242 hotel rooms, 126,000 sf of retail, 90,000 sf of offices and 822 luxury residential condos.
“This is the best site anywhere,” says Charles E. Pocsi, Jr., president of developer Town & Country Affiliates of Woodcliff Lake, NJ. His company, an affiliate of Whiteweld, Barrister & Brown, the New York City-based real estate investment company, is itself changing its name to Stratland Homes to reflect the national branding of its other residential communities. The Centuria project will actually be developed by a related WBB affiliate of the same name.
“The Gold Coast has been developing for many years, and Fort Lee has been falling behind,” John Johnson, executive managing director of WBB, tells GlobeSt.com. “So the timing was right, combined with the fact we could do the residential and commercial and make the economics work.”
WBB and its affiliates have been involved with the project for three years, according to Johnson, finally closing on the acquisition of the long-vacant site at the beginning of this year and completing its redevelopment deal with the city. The seller was Leona Helmsley and the site has long been known locally as the “Helmsley tract.”
With the project finally coming together, Mayor Jack Alter says it involved “many jurisdictions,” and he credits Bergen County with helping seal the deal. Answering some who have voiced concerns about traffic congestion given the site’s proximity to the George Washington Bridge, “you can probably walk here from anywhere in Fort Lee,” Alter says.
Centuria officials estimate the project will take six years in several phases. The first phase will likely be a 19-story hotel: “We have been talking to well-known hotel brands,” Johnson tells GlobeSt.com. “It will be a four-star hotel, probably an international name,” he says, adding that the property itself will consist of 10 stories with 242 hotel rooms topped by nine floors of luxury residential condos. At 19 floors, it will be the tallest building on-site.
The hotel will anchor the project’s West Section, which will also include 211 condos, the office space and most of the retail space. The initial phase will also include 370 units within the site’s East Section, configured as five mid-rise buildings. Also part of the East Section will be a 14-story high-rise condo building with 240 units, as well as 16,000 sf of retail.
The retail portion of Centuria “will definitely be upscale,” Johnson says. “We’re trying to model it after Mizner Place in Florida or AOL/Time Warner Center in New York City.” As part of its agreement with the city as designated redeveloper, Centuria has also agreed to build police and fire substations, give the community $2.9 million for affordable housing and spend $6 million for road improvements. Centuria will also pay for upgrades to the sewer system, estimated to cost $3 million.
And the longer term plan is to take the Centuria brand national. The company has already opened offices in the Phoenix area, in Raleigh, NC, Sarasota, FL and Atlanta.