Harrison Tries to Score With Development
By KAVITA MOKHA
January 28, 2011
Nearly a year after the Red Bull Arena opened its doors in Harrison, N.J., the urban rebirth some had hoped for the Hudson County town has yet to gel, but signs of development are beginning to emerge.
Once a thriving manufacturing and distribution center nicknamed the "Beehive of Industry," Harrison was home to factories for Thomas A. Edison and Radio Corp. of America, among others. But it had turned into bleak, brownfield-littered landscape along the Passaic River as most of the factory lights had gone out by the 1970s, putting the town into a tailspin.
The March opening of a $200 million, 25,000-seat soccer stadium was meant to be the centerpiece of an ambitious redevelopment plan put together more than a decade ago. The plan—covering more than 250 acres, a full third of the town's total footprint—envisions building residential and retail space in various projects as well as a new PATH train station.
The plan has gone through a series of hurdles. The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center destroyed Harrison's direct rail connection to Manhattan and set back the town's redevelopment prospects. More recently, investment plans languished during the worst of the economic downturn.
"We had the plan, the investors and the developers and then 9/11 happened," said Greg Kowalski, executive director of the Harrison Redevelopment Agency.
A Hampton Inn on Passaic Avenue, which was part of the redevelopment plan, opened in 2004. Now, several previously dormant projects are making progress.
The first phase of Harrison Commons, a mixed-use development located across from the Red Bull Arena, is expect to finish construction in the next few months. It will include rental apartments as well as retail space, and the first occupants are expected to move in this summer.
"The Harrison PATH stop is the only stop in the 13-stop system that has not been developed," said Richard Miller, chief executive of Pegasus Group. Pegasus and Ironstate Development, both of Hoboken, are developers for the project.
Mr. Miller hopes the project will appeal to "young professionals who will be attracted to the exciting downtown setting and convenient commute to Manhattan."
Another major project that is in the works is the Riverbend at Harrison, which is intended to transform 35 acres into condos, townhouses, apartments and office space.
Peter Cocoziello, CEO of Advance Realty Group, the developer of the Riverbend project, said the town was "in the process of reviewing our plans" and that he expected construction to begin later this year.
And just along the waterfront, Millrose Developers, a joint venture between Millennium Homes and Roseland Property Co., completed the first phase of River Park at Harrison in 2007. The project included 176 housing units and a riverwalk park along the Passaic river and was sold out soon after launch. The second phase of the project is under way.
Despite the limited number of completed projects so far, many local business owners are pleased with the impact of Red Bull Arena on the town, which has deep soccer roots.
"For us, it's a bonus because there was nothing here before," said Jerry Fernandez, co-owner of the Spanish Pavillion on Harrison Avenue. The restaurant, which was recently featured on the reality television show "Kitchen Nightmares," hosts pre-game parties as well as outdoor buffets on game days.
Rick Rady, the manager of La Pizza, a restaurant a few blocks away on Harrison Avenue, points to the throngs of soccer fans who travel from out of state, stay at the Hampton Inn and patronize restaurants like his. Much less benefit comes from "the ones who take the PATH, just get off and on the train after the game," he said.
Some locals are skeptical about the extent to which the arena can spearhead development in Harrison. "They have a handful of games in a year," said Al Silva, a local real-estate agent. "You really can't stay in business here based on the arena."
Others point to the congestion and infrastructure problems faced by the town on game days. The new Harrison PATH station is to be built over the next few years, although the exact timeline for the project is unclear.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates PATH, continues to acquire property for the Harrison station modernization project, with more than $2.5 million included in this year's capital budget for purchases, according to Port Authority spokesman Ron Marisco.
Red Bull Arena, meanwhile, is gearing up for a new season, which includes two summer concerts by indie jam band Dispatch—with the first concert nearly sold out.
"Right now we are the brightest candle on the cake," said Erik Stover, managing director of the New York Red Bulls, "but the rest of the development might be more important to the people of Harrison."
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