The Real Deal New York

Redevelopment keeps Montclair on the map

The George, a hotel by makeup mogul Bobbi Brown and her developer husband, is one of a handful of prestige projects in town
By Bill Cary | July 12, 2018 11:00AM

The lobby of the George in Montclair, which opened this spring.

Montclair has always been a popular New Jersey location, but it’s recently been getting more than its usual fair share of attention.

That’s in part because, after living in the tony suburb for more than 30 years and raising three sons there, retired makeup mogul Bobbi Brown and her husband, local developer Steven Plofker of Willow Street Partners, have just opened Montclair’s first hotel.

The George, their 32-room boutique hotel at Claremont and North Mountain avenues in the heart of town, was their first professional collaboration. Plofker, who acquired the 1902 former Georgian Inn several years ago, handled its structural overhaul and the site’s architectural development, while Brown took care of all aspects of the interior design.

The hotel’s design is British-inspired, and accommodations are well-appointed; Brown partnered with more than a dozen brands to outfit the George, including Casper mattresses and Dyson Supersonic hair dryers. It also uses Keypr, which has in-room tablets for guests to access entertainment and food options, as well as a mobile app for virtual check-in and checkout. “We’ve been sold out some weekends, and we’re running about 50 percent occupancy during the week. So far, so good,” Plofker said.

A second hotel, the $38 million, 151-room MC Hotel at 1 Orange Road, is expected to join the hospitality ranks next year. It is now under construction and will be part of Marriott International’s Autograph Collection.

Some might say Montclair was overdue for such accommodations; Montclair State University and the annual film festival bring plenty of visitors to the town, and any visitors to the area have to look elsewhere for accommodations.

Market overview

The neighborhood of Upper Montclair is the wealthiest in the state, the financial news site 24/7 Wall St. reported in May. The median household income there is more than $190,515, which is $116,000 more than the state average, according to the research.

Bobbi Brown

Although Montclair has been mostly developed for decades, old properties are now being converted for new uses. Or could be, as is the case with formerly bustling Lackawanna railroad station, which may become a mixed-use development in years to come. Others, like Brown and Plofker, are updating existing spaces for today’s needs.

The overall real estate market in the Essex County township is quite strong, Plofker said.

His company has “15 to 20 different properties in Montclair,” he said, mostly a mix of residential and office. “We have very little turnover, very little vacancy.”

“The for-sale single-family market is very robust, especially under $1 million or $1.2 million,” Plofker said. “Above $1.5 million is not as robust, but it has been that way for many years.”

So far this year, single-family home prices in Montclair are rising and inventory is tight, according to figures provided by Prominent Properties Sotheby’s International Realty. Through June 26, the median price for a single-family home was $746,000, with just 164 homes sold, compared to $590,000 and 191 homes sold over the same period last year, Prominent Properties Sotheby’s office manager and broker associate Denise Riordan said. “That is a 14 percent drop in units closed,” she pointed out, saying demand was outpacing supply.

Kate McDonough, another agent at Prominent Properties Sotheby’s office in Montclair, said she is also seeing high buyer demand and that a chunk of her prospective clients come from Brooklyn. “Many homes are getting multiple offers and well over the asking price,” said McDonough, who has lived in town since 1978. And, she added, “inventory is down 20 percent year over year compared to last year.”

McDonough said a recent Montclair home priced at $879,000 drew 12 offers, five of which were over $1 million. Another, priced at $639,000, drew five offers and sold for $780,000. Another one of her recent listings was priced at almost $1.12 million and sold for $1.3 million, she said. “Anything under $1 million is in high demand — $650,000 to $950,000 is the sweet spot,” McDonough said.

Buildable vacant land in town is rare, the agent said — “usually only one or two parcels at a time” — and are often difficult, hilly sites.

But unlike many other well-to-do suburbs with little buildable land, teardowns are rare in Montclair, McDonough said, “maybe a couple a year, and even then they mostly just take it down to the foundation.”

Economics may play a role in that, Plofker said. The high price of land and rising construction costs keep many people, especially first-time buyers, from building from scratch.

Those on the prowl for homes are looking for fully renovated, move-in-ready units, McDonough said.

“Buyers are looking for convenience, which Montclair offers, with three different commercial hubs, six train stations and buses that run through town,” McDonough said.

Each of the town’s three commercial hubs is surrounded by residential areas, she explained. “It triples our opportunity to offer walking distance to everything.”

The local condo market is  “very small,” Plofker said, but he and McDonough agreed on the opportunity presented by the rental market. “The rental residential market is very strong,” Plofker said. “All of the newer buildings have leased up in a fairly short amount of time.” A two-bedroom apartment in a renovated building typically rents for between $2,000 and $2,500, he added.

McDonough said that a “lot of families are looking for rentals because they are not able to secure a house.”

“They go quickly when they become available,” she said.

In the works

Montclair, which has a population of about 38,000, has several interesting developments in the works or on the drawing board.

Currently under construction, the Vestry will bring 46 upscale rentals to a new five-story building at 147 Bloomfield Avenue in the heart of downtown Montclair’s eastern gateway. The developers are Sterling Properties and Greenwood Development.

The Seymour Street Redevelopment Plan project is being built around the historic Wellmont Theater, which regularly hosts concerts and other events. The mixed-use redevelopment, spearheaded by Pinnacle Companies of Montclair and Brookfield Properties, will be on a 3.5-acre site on Bloomfield Avenue between Seymour and South Willow streets. It’s currently home to the former Social Security Administration building and STS Tire and Auto.

One of the project’s buildings will be six stories, with 200 residential units, 232 parking spaces and about 30,000 square feet of retail space. The second building is set to be seven stories, with two levels of office space and five floors of parking. It will also have a large public plaza.

Lackawanna Plaza, at Bloomfield Avenue and Grove Street, is another big project under consideration, from developers Pinnacle Companies and Hampshire Companies. It would transform the historic and once-grand 1913 Lackawanna railroad station property into a multi-use development with 154 units of housing and a rooftop pool and garden. A Pathmark there closed two years ago, and a new supermarket is part of the current proposal before town boards.

Town residents, preservationists, the developers and town planning and zoning officials are in discussions about the size and scope of the project. One issue is how much of the historic station and the train sheds can be saved.

“I have no doubt that something positive will happen there,” Plofker said. “Everybody is interested in moving this forward.”