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New Jersey Needs To Be More Than A State Of Commuters

In New Jersey, commercial real estate developers are seeking to define themselves by more than their proximity to New York or Philadelphia. In communities across the state, the way forward is in making locations that are destinations on their own.


At Bisnow's New Jersey State of the Market event, panelists said they are focused on creating live/work/play environments, which can occur naturally in city centers but have to be curated by developers in suburban areas.

“We’re seeing [live/work/play] more desired in the suburbs than even in certain urban locations because people in the suburbs feel a little bit disconnected from playing and shopping and working in the city,” KRE Group's Jon Kushner said.

But in New Jersey and around metropolitan areas everywhere, the availability of mass transit remains paramount. Being able to walk to shopping and entertainment is great, but just as crucial is the ability to conveniently travel longer distances without driving.

“It’s critical for the target audience,” Kushner said. “They want to be able to go to work without a car.”

Bringing multifamily developments together with restaurants, child care, health services and more makes them more appealing destinations, but prospective residents go to work more often than they go to any of those places. Transit is important, but in areas farther away from the major metros, if the office is just as close as the favorite bar or grocery store, that is an environment that can truly compete with the cities.

“[In non-commuter towns], what it really comes down to is big employers,” said Russo Development CEO Ed Russo. “We’re seeing location be a huge factor, being close to an employment base — and then price. I don’t care where you are, today there’s a lot of multifamily development going on.”


Due to a growing push for more affordable housing, developers are looking to less dense areas in New Jersey that have more relaxed expectations of set-asides.

“I’m interested to watch over the next five years,” Stephen Santola of Woodmont Properties said. “As affordable housing litigations continue, and as towns look to build larger rental communities, how do they compete with downtown counterparts? Will there be enough renters for those types of communities?”

Once again, the answer lies in proximity. Prism Partners bought the massive, defunct Hoffmann-La Roche corporate campus in Clifton and Nutley last year with the goal of creating a live/work/play environment from whole cloth. It is bringing in major employers Hackensack Meridian Health and Seton Hall to fill office space on the campus, and principal Ed Cohen said other components will follow.

“We now have the opportunity to create a village,” Cohen said. “Based upon corporate demand and the labor they’re looking to attract, our tenants our demanding the creation of an urban environment.”

As the developing environment in New Jersey becomes more competitive, with increased activity from investors, office and residential look like sure bets to be more successful in locations where they can work together. In this way, communities in the state can become more than home bases for commuters.