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As reported by GlobeSt.com, the Elizabeth waterfront is about to be the site of a major mixed-use development. RENJ recently spoke to Dil Hoda, manager of the Hoboken-based Tern Landing Development, LLC about his plans and hopes for the site and for the City of Elizabeth.

RENJ: Jersey City and Hoboken have experienced major renaissances in the past few years. Why hasn’t Elizabeth had a similar resurgence?

Hoda: I think it’s a combination of things. For one, the ferry was not there. The ferry is being done as part of our project, whereas in Hoboken and Jersey City it already existed. This is waterfront property in metropolitan New York, and in my opinion this is probably a better location than Hoboken or Jersey City. The Turnpike and Newark Liberty International Airport are only minutes away. Those are resources Hoboken and Jersey City don’t have. With the ferry there, making a trip to the city only takes about 30 minutes, and suddenly Elizabeth will start to become just as competitive as our project moves forward. Our project will kick-start development along the waterfront in Elizabeth.

RENJ: Why wasn’t the property developed earlier?

Hoda: There were other projects proposed, but none went through. An office complex was proposed, but the office market was not there in North Jersey, so the buildings weren’t built. Subsequently, there were proposals to build low-density, low-rise residential, but that didn’t make any economic sense because when you’re developing on a landfill, there are a lot of extra costs involved. For that, you need high density.

RENJ: What’s your vision for the finished project?

Hoda: There are two projects going on simultaneously. There is a real estate project, and then there is another project that has to do with environmental awareness and cleansing the bay. The real estate project, Celadon, which we anticipate will take about 12 years, has been positioned as an airport city. Eventually, we hope there will be either a light rail or a monorail connection to the airport, and meanwhile we’ll be running shuttle buses to the airport. In addition, we will have an on-site connection to Manhattan through the ferry.

If I were to define it, I would say that Celadon is a culturally anchored, transit-oriented, sustainable mixed-use development. Culturally anchored because it will have studios and spaces for artists and arts-related businesses. There’s also a proposed school that will be centered around environmental issues because we have the bay, we have the wetlands there. The school will be totally integrated into its surroundings that way.As far as the project being sustainable, of course the transportation hub is there. We are also making adaptable reuse of the landfill. There’ll be systems in the buildings to make them more environmentally friendly—for example, geothermal systems. Also, all our roofs except for the towers will be green roofs, and we’ll be harvesting rainwater. And it’s mixed use—we’d like people to live, work and play within Celadon so they’re less dependent on cars.

This is a demonstration project for the US Green Buildings Council—it’s a pilot project for a LEED neighborhood. This is a new designation for an entire neighborhood that is LEED certified.

RENJ: Green building and environmental awareness are very central to your company, isn’t it?

Hoda: That is correct. It’s not just in the real estate aspects of the project. We are bringing people to the water. Right now, there is no access to the waterfront where we are proposing to build all this, and we’ll be building a promenade, an access road, a pier that goes substantially out into the bay and kayak launching pads, so we’ll be bringing people to the bay so they can use it as the recreational resource it is. And the more people that come there, become aware of Newark Bay and demand that it get cleaned—that helps our project and it helps the bay.

This is what I would call 21st century development, where environmental elements are not only important to us as developers but to our end users and society at large. We want to leave the site we work with better than we found it. There’s another term for this is “generational justice.” We want to leave the planet better than we found it.

RENJ: What attracted you to the green building movement?

Hoda: I have an engineering background and one of the first things I got involved in coming out of engineering school were waste treatment plants. That was almost 30 years ago, and everything I’ve done either from a construction or development viewpoint has had some environmental aspects to it.

RENJ: With the economy and the real estate market the way they are do you have any concerns about embarking on such a large project?

Hoda: Yes and no. The good news is, the project is spread out over 12 years, so in all likelihood we’ll have one or two recessions in between. That’s the nature of the economic and real estate cycle that we would go through. Mixed-use developments tend to navigate real estate and economic cycles much better than projects that are all one product type.

What concerns me is that credit is tighter these days because lending institutions are very careful. The good part is the supply of product has come down, so if a project is well designed and has the right support, which we believe our project does, we are in a very competitive position. And our phasing has also been designed to take that into account. We’re starting off with the transportation, leading into retail, leading into the hotel. Markets for those spaces exist and are doing well now. After they’re complete, we’ll move into rental residential, which is relatively strong, and by the time we finish that, hopefully the for-sale market will pick up. If it does, we have the flexibility to move quickly and do for-sale housing. We don’t intend to do this in the near future, but we are in a position if the market turns.

RENJ: In 20 years, if all goes well and Celadon is completed as you’ve imagined it, what will Elizabeth be like?

Hoda: I believe this would become one of the hottest waterfront locations in the metro area. As far as location, there is no comparable site on the entire Eastern seaboard in terms of public transportation, road, ferry and international air connections right next to a part of the most important metro area in the country. This is a phenomenal site.

Going forward, we hope to connect our waterfront walkway with Elizabeth River Park, which will connect into the national trail system, so you could take a ferry from Manhattan into our project and walk almost the entire length of the Appalachian Trail from New Hampshire to beyond the Blue Mountains. That’s what I’d like to see in 20 years. Somebody has to think it through and push it in a certain direction. We’ll do our piece and hopefully others will do their pieces and it will all get connected.

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