Fort Lee goes upscale

Could two new luxury rentals help the NJ city join the so-called Gold Coast?

Oct.October 01, 2014 07:00 AM
The first of the twin 47-story rentals at the Modern in Fort Lee began leasing last month.  (Inset) Steven Pozycki, CEO of SJP Properties, the developer of the Modern (Photo: STUDIO SCRIVO)

The first of the twin 47-story rentals at the Modern in Fort Lee began leasing last month.
(Inset) Steven Pozycki, CEO of SJP Properties, the developer of the Modern (Photo: STUDIO SCRIVO).

When conversations turn to New Jersey’s Gold Coast there is one locale that’s invariably left out: Fort Lee. Atop the Palisades cliffs at the foot of the George Washington Bridge, Fort Lee doesn’t sit on the waterfront and hasn’t seen the same kind of residential development that Gold Coast towns have in recent years.

But the city is set to get a pair of new developments that could increase its caché.

“Fort Lee used to be known as the envy of east Bergen County,” said Mayor Mark Sokolich, a real estate and zoning attorney by trade. “I think [the new developments are] going to allow us to regain our status as the place to shop, the place to eat and the place to raise your kids.”

The new projects — one dubbed the Modern, the other called Hudson Lights — will add nearly 1,400 rental units to the area where surrounding apartments weigh heavily toward older co-ops and condos. These projects will also offer the kinds of amenities associated with new construction buildings in Manhattan.

“It’s unprecedented in terms of scope,” said Allen Goldman of SJP Properties, which is developing the Modern and began marketing the project’s first 450-unit tower last month. “It’s really a unique product in so many ways.”

SJP is betting that the development will entice renters with its 75,000 square feet of amenities, which include a pool, golf simulator and shuttle service to Manhattan that goes “directly across the bridge to the 175th street subway station,” Goldman said.

“Bergen County is the 16th-wealthiest county in the country,” Goldman added. “There are many, many people looking for this kind of product.”

Along with the neighboring towns of Edgewater and Cliffside Park, Fort Lee is part of the largest rental market in Bergen County, according to local broker Fred Sokolich, the brother of the mayor.

But most of the tall apartment towers facing the Fort Lee waterfront are either co-ops or condos, and the majority of the rental product is decades old.

“There hasn’t been much new building in Fort Lee in a while,” said Adrienne Albert, CEO of the Marketing Directors, which will handle leasing for the Modern and Hudson Lights.

Both projects are being developed on a site in the heart of Fort Lee that sat fallow for 40 years. Efforts to develop the 16-acre site, which was once owned by real estate mogul Harry Helmsley, had long fallen flat. The property had run into a number of roadblocks, including a bribery scandal in the 1970s and decades of false starts. In 2005, the Helmsley estate sold the plots to a developer who went bankrupt. Frustrated by the lack of progress, Fort Lee elected officials issued a request for proposals and in 2012 approved plans by SJP and Tucker Development Corp., the developer behind Hudson Lights.

Albert said the target demographics include empty nesters and millennials from Bergen County, as well as transplants from Manhattan looking for easy access to the city.

Rents at the Modern start at around $2,500 for a one-bedroom apartment, she said. That’s compared to about $2,300 for a comparable apartment across the street at Twenty50 — the first luxury rental building to hit the Fort Lee market in some time when it opened last year.

The Modern’s twin 47-story buildings will tower over all of the surrounding buildings and even soar higher than the George Washington Bridge itself, while Tucker’s project will consist of several lower-lying buildings.

The first phase of the mixed-use Hudson Lights development — a 276-unit rental building with 175,000 square feet of retail — is slated to begin leasing in the fall of 2015.

Rich Tucker, president of Tucker Development, said 50 percent of the project’s retail space has already been leased and that the anchor tenant is a luxury movie theater called iPic that offers a meal with a flick.

“It’s a quality, luxury reserve-seating theater. It’s really the best theater around,” Tucker said.

Construction on the second phase of the project — a 201-unit rental building and a yet-to-be-named 175-room hotel — is expected to begin toward the end of next year.

Tucker said it was too early to discuss pricing for the residential portion of the project — where amenities will include a pool, lounge, fitness center and rooftop terrace — but said that with the retail component, Hudson Lights offers something its competitor does not.

He added he was not concerned about the Modern getting a head start on leasing.

“I think it’s great,” he said. “They’re providing a great product in the market. I look forward to complementing them.”


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