JERSEY CITY-This city’s waterfront has gotten most of the development publicity in recent years, but a redevelopment project in the works for almost two decades away from the waterfront in the city’s Journal Square area has taken a big step forward. The seven-member Jersey City Redevelopment Agency has voted unanimously to designate locally based Harwood Properties as the designated developer for the square-block site adjacent to the PATH transportation center.

The project will actually be done by Journal Square Development LLC, a company set up by Harwood Properties specifically for the purpose. Harwood is one of several family-owned enterprises that have operated in Jersey City for generations and is based in a Journal Square building. Harwood Properties also developed and own the State Square apartment community on Kennedy Boulevard, about a block from the Journal Square redevelopment site.

The specifics of the site plan still have to be worked out for formal presentation to city planning officials. However, preliminary and very general plans unveiled by Lowell Harwood, CEO of Harwood Properties, call for two high-rise towers with a combination of rental apartments, retail stores and an underground parking complex. A hotel could also be part of the mix.

“We’re looking forward to keeping the timetable going and even accelerating the redevelopment plan,” Harwood told reporters after the redevelopment agency signed off on his company as designated developer. “We’re looking to starting this project as soon as possible.”

The project does require some zoning changes, but “as soon as possible” in Harwood’s view, would mean the start of construction by as early as the beginning of next year pending those changes and final approvals. Harwood says he hopes to have a site plan put together within the next 30 days, which would provide a better idea of the size, scope and cost of the redevelopment.

The agency approval follows a deal done by Harwood to buy approximately 80% of the site. Harwood signed a contract in January to acquire the property from current owner Ralph Yawil Jr., a New York City-based real estate investor. Demolition has already started on several long-vacant buildings on the site, including 8-11 Journal Square, which is the defunct Hotel on the Square, and 17-23 Journal Square. The acquired property also includes a parking lot behind the existing buildings.

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