East Brunswick announces $500M plan for redeveloping Route 18 corridor

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VASHTI HARRIS/ STAFF
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River Development Equities, LLC Principal Warren Waters speaks about the Route 18 redevelopment plan during the press conference on Feb. 4 at the municipal building. VASHTI HARRIS/STAFF
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(left to right) Stephen Carlidge and Tom Bauer explains the conceptual site plan for the Route 18 corridor at the press conference on Feb. 4 at the municipal building. VASHTI HARRIS
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VASHTI HARRIS/ STAFF
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River Development Equities, LLC Principal Warren Waters speaks about the Route 18 redevelopment plan during the press conference on Feb. 4 at the municipal building. VASHTI HARRIS/STAFF
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(left to right) Stephen Carlidge and Tom Bauer explains the conceptual site plan for the Route 18 corridor at the press conference on Feb. 4 at the municipal building. VASHTI HARRIS

 

EAST BRUNSWICK–Utilizing a podium, large blueprints and maps, East Brunswick officials unveiled the $500 million conceptual Route 18 Corridor Redevelopment Plan.

The Township of East Brunswick has executed a developers agreement with River Development Equities, LLC of Red Bank to proceed with the redevelopment of 44 acres of underutilized property on Route 18, according to a prepared statement from Cahn Communications, which handles public relations for River Development Equities.

“This is the [River Development Equities] team that really has the horsepower to drive this project forward and it’s really a project … to redevelop, revitalize and reimagine Route 18 and the northern end of our East Brunswick business corridor,” East Brunswick Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Michael Hughes said during the unveiling of the project on Feb. 4 at the East Brunswick Municipal Building.

The plan is for a new mixed-use development that will revitalize the blighted properties between Ruth Street and Lake Street on Route 18. The largely vacant and sub-standard buildings will give rise to a $500 million redevelopment encompassing a modern aesthetic and live-work-play design model from around the country, according to the statement.

For the site, the conceptual plan includes:

  • new bus terminal and commuter parking garage
  • modern hotel
  • tech center and on-site medical services office facility
  • destination and place-making features such as restaurants with outdoor dining, shops, pedestrian walkways, water features, a central public plaza, multiple open public greenways and an outdoor amphitheater to promote outdoor gathering and community events
  • environmentally sustainable indoor/outdoor pet facility
  • collection of stylish rental residences

Hughes said there will potentially be 800 residential units. For the proposed boutique-style hotel there will be 101-120 rooms.

For the project, Shore Point Architecture of Ocean Grove and Melillo+Bauer Associates of Brielle will provide architectural designs and plans, according to River Development Equities Principal Warren Waters.

Despite the challenges that come with the site, Tom Bauer, who is the founding principal of Melillo+Bauer Associates, said the conceptual plan for the site is what he calls a mixed-use lifestyle center that has a mix of residential, retail, a hotel at the center of the site, a medical office complex, a transportation hub, and a potential municipal center.

Bauer said at the heart of the site there will be a public amenity, which is a park system that will roll through the center and through the site that residents and visitors can use.

“It’s a concept, as we mentioned, so we are very anxious to get into the real hard design as we go through the design development and construction documentation for the project in the near future. So we are very excited to be part of the entire [project],” Bauer said.

Shore Point Architecture President Stephen Carlidge said what strikes him about the site plan is that there is very little surface parking visible anywhere. All of the mixed-use buildings are structured with two or three-level parking structures below them. None of that parking will be visible on the exterior and that parking is encircled by either retail or residential.

Wanting the site not to be overwhelmed by parking, Carlidge said that when someone approaches the site they are not going to be aware that there is any parking.

“One of the things that attracted us here is the opportunity to have 45 continuous acres, which doesn’t exist, let alone on the Route 18 corridor, let alone in a municipality like East Brunswick,” Waters said. “So what we tried to do is look at the entire site, understand what it would mean to the municipality and what it would mean to the people that live here to be able to do this in a way that is impactful.”

Waters continued to say, “This is a first step. This is far from anything that represents anything more than trying to meet the municipality’s expectations and putting together something that’s great. When we really get into the heart of the design, I think it gets better every time we meet and talk about this and that will happen in short order.”

Members of the Township Council, Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin (D-Middlesex), members of the Board of Education, professionals from River Development Equities and members of the East Brunswick redevelopment agency were present at the conference.

“This is a process where you will find out this is the first concrete step forward and it’s truly a leap forward in a partnership, like we spoke about, that’s going to be able to shape East Brunswick not just through next few years, not through just the next few decades, but really for the next generation and folks who are going to be able to call East Brunswick home,” Hughes said.

East Brunswick Redevelopment Agency Chairman and Councilman James Wendell said it has been a little over two years since Mayor Brad Cohen decided to establish a redevelopment agency in town and asked him to spearhead the agency.

In that two years, Wendell said the agency has three projects underway.

“With this site, we are here to talk about today being the most dynamic and important project for the Township of East Brunswick. Over the past year-and-a-half, we worked with our various professionals to develop a plan and the [Requests for Quotation] (RFQs)  necessary to bring in respected developers for this area,” Wendell said.

Once the RFQs came in a little over a year ago, Wendell said, “I have worked with our professionals during that time, we’ve worked with the developers and we as an agency chose one developer the one with the most dynamic plan for the entire area, and that was River Development.”

Cohen said the 2016 council and mayoral elections centered on redevelopment and residents wanted the Route 18 corridor restored to its former glory.

“People who lived here and knew about the Route 18 corridor … had seen what had changed due to the changing nature of retail and had fallen into a blighted condition in the wake of the great recession,” Cohen said. “Many of us here today actually remember back to the 1970s and the ’80s and the ’90s when the Loehmanns Plaza, the Gap and the Wiz Plaza were really areas that were rich and vibrant.”

Unfortunately, Cohen said it was decades ago and most of the younger generation has no memory of how that area of Route 18 used to be.

“So this commercial corridor that sits right at the center of New Jersey, a corridor that still sees over 100,000 cars a day, a corridor that connects New Brunswick and Rutgers [University] to the shore, a corridor that sits at the cross-section of almost every major highway in New Jersey and one that is equal distance between New York City and Philadelphia, is in desperate need of revitalization. That is exactly what we have spent the last two to three years doing.”

When the project will be complete, Hughes said, will depend on factors such as the timing of approvals and how quickly site plans are done.

Hughes said the agency expects property acquisitions to be completed in short order, because a lot of the buildings are owned privately. He said the township expects that process to be done expeditiously, probably within the next three months, and expects to see demolition start to occur by the late summer.

Hughes said right now the agency is looking at two to three phases for the project and that this is a multiple-year project that can potentially take five to six years to complete.

Contact Vashti Harris at vharris@newspapermediagroup.com.