Hackensack back on New Jersey’s real estate radar

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Forgive Hackensack for feeling overlooked. Burned to the ground by the British during the Revolution, Bergen County’s headquarters never flexed the industrial muscles of Paterson, boasted of Newark’s cultural richness, or enjoyed the Montclair hallmark. Instead, the city on the river of the same name became known as a shopping destination. People bought a dress or a suit on Main Street. You can also experience a matinee at Fox or Oritani.

But the advent of shopping malls – particularly in Paramus – led to a decades-long decline in Hackenack’s urban core. Franklin Simon and Arnold Constable department stores? Went. The cinemas in the city center? Went. Prozy’s beloved Army Navy store? A memory. Billy Joel didn’t help by singing, “Who needs a house out in Hackensack? Is that all you get for your money? ”- texts that abuse a run-down city.

Hackensack is doing better today. A revitalization of the inner city in recent years has triggered a building boom associated with a nickname that raises eyebrows: the sack.

Attracted by the city’s financial incentives, builders are replacing unused or vacant commercial properties, even a parking lot, with luxurious rental buildings with all the amenities young professionals desire: gyms, swimming pools, BBQ stations, pet spas, and rooftop terraces with Manhattan views. The new buildings – some occupied, others under construction or still under construction – include more than 3,500 studio, one and two-room apartments that could increase the city’s population to 50,000 by 2024. (Currently 43,856, Hackensack is New Jersey’s 20th most populous parish.)

“Downtown Hackensack sat here for years and nothing happened,” says Bryan Hekemian, chairman of the Main Street Business Alliance, the public-private partnership that is central to the redevelopment of the city. “Well, now it’s Hackensack’s turn. Not just turning, but time. “

The family business Hekemian & Co., of which Hekemian serves as Executive Vice President, built one of the first projects available for lease, the Current on River, just a short walk from White Manna, the legendary Greasy Spoon on River Street that has been serving pusher for 75 years. Two larger, mixed-use projects are being built within sight of the electricity: The Brick, a 14-story rental building, and the Print House, an apartment complex with 700 residential units in which the Record Newspaper stood once.

Among the completed buildings, one is nicknamed Woolworth, a tribute to a late Main Street merchant, and two have addresses for names – 22 Sussex and 210 Main. The latter is a converted bank tower in the Art Deco style. With 12 storeys, it was the tallest building in Bergen County when it opened in 1926.

“We firmly believe that Hackenack is a good choice,” said Mike Pembroke, chief operating officer of Russo Development, one of the companies behind Print House, along with the Hampshire Companies and Fourth Edition, Inc. He calls assets like the two Train stations, buses to Manhattan, the proximity to highways and the presence of a large hospital, the Hackensack University Medical Center.

As a district town, Hackensack also has offices and courts in the Bergen district – which means many potential tenants. Hackensack is also home to a Fairleigh Dickinson University campus.

Transportation, medicine, government, education – the same ingredients helped fuel redevelopment in New Brunswick, Jersey City, and other locations in the Garden State.

Back on the river, Hekemian says the average tenant age in his company’s 254-unit building, which opened in 2020, is 36. But Albert Dib, the city’s director of development, says Hackensack’s rejuvenation will be a multi-generation phenomenon.

“People talk about millennials all the time, and they’re probably the biggest segment, but it’s really a cross-section,” says Dib. “We see empty nests who want to stay close to their families and want amenities like a swimming pool and parking space. There is a wide range of tenants of different demographics and ethnicities. “

Debbie Lopez and her boyfriend Ron Chatterjee moved to an apartment on Current, a short walk from popular restaurants. Joe Polillio

Hackensack is one of the last places Debbie Lopez, who works for a New York financial services company, thought she was going to find herself. After spending much of her adult life on the New York side of the Hudson, the 40-year-old from Bergen County moved her boyfriend to an apartment on Current.

Manhattan, says Lopez, “lost its meaning” during the pandemic. While lamenting the lack of a party atmosphere at Sack – the limited supply of liquor licenses is a weak point on Main Street – Lopez appreciates that she can buy Colombian or Vietnamese food or the crumb cake at B&W, a venerable German bakery. The ethnic diversity reminds them of their earlier excavations in West Harlem.

“I can have my little city life on my doorstep, but also the calming suburbs nearby,” she says. “It’s the best of both worlds.”

Rents for the new apartments range from nearly $ 2,000 to more than $ 3,000 a month. It’s not cheap, but less than comparable in Manhattan or on the New Jersey Gold Coast. Nonetheless, at least two of the completed buildings this summer offered incentives for new tenants. Crossroads 389, an 82-unit building on Main Street, offered up to three months for free with a two-year lease. And 210 Main made four months available free of charge with a 28-month lease.

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As the apartments fill up, Hackensack officials anticipate the arrival of new businesses to serve the newcomers. One of the main goals is to revitalize Main Street, which was opened to oncoming traffic again this year. A portion of the Main occupied by Latin American delis and bakeries, beauty stores, hair and nail salons, dollar stores, and law firms – and empty store fronts – is experiencing a surge in evening activity and some new people, including an upscale diner on the floor of one of the newers Apartment buildings. A few microbreweries have settled further north, in front of the Main; Near the courthouse, a neo-Gothic church building has been converted into a performing arts center. And maybe there is no better symbol of Hackensack’s journey than the climbing gym that rises near the Print House and the Brick.

All of this sharpened Hackensack’s profile and invited comparison with another river town – but one that is known for hipness. The question arises: is Hackensack the next Hoboken?

“I don’t want us to be Hoboken; I want us to be the new Hackensack, ”says John Labrosse, mayor since 2013. “The mood here is completely different. We have a distinct inner city in a residential city. That’s a big bonus. When people move into our new buildings, after a while, many of these millennials may decide to buy a house and start their families here. “

The building boom in downtown Hackensack has helped add value to single-family homes in sought-after apartment blocks like Summit Avenue. Joe Polillio

The new build has helped revitalize Hackensack’s real estate market, which includes leafy neighborhoods with friendly colonial rulers in the Fairmount neighborhood and high-rise condominiums along Prospect Avenue near the medical center. From 2017 to 2020, the average single-family home sales price in the city rose 27 percent to $ 425,000. Condos and townhouses rose 23 percent to a median of $ 225,000, according to the New Jersey Multiple Listing Service.

“Thirty years ago it was called ‘Eeew, Hackensack,'” says Larry Greenberg, agent at Vikki Healey Properties in neighboring Maywood. “But with everything that is happening, Hackensack has moved up into the travel destination category. It has grown from an average city to one that people ask for by name. “

The city may be “on the rise”, as posters in the windows of the city center announce, but the renovation is not generally welcomed. As predictable, some fear that population growth will bring additional traffic. Rich Cerbo, son of a former mayor and himself a former local office candidate, calls the new apartments “a risk it is worth,” but wonders if millennials in a city that – let’s face it – are not Manhattan ( or Hoboken). “Move to Hackensack and what to do?” He muses. “Get in and go somewhere else?”

[RELATED: Meet the Millennials Reshaping New Jersey]

Then there is Patricia Carter (not her real name). The retired Garden State Parkway worker grew up in Hackensack, lives next door in Lodi, and would like to return to her revitalized hometown, where she does volunteer work in the pantry of Varick Memorial AME Zion Church, the city’s oldest black congregation. When browsing through the new apartments on the Internet, however, she gets a sticker shock.

“I’m glad you’re doing something to keep Hackensack alive,” says Carter. “But I am sad that they are building for people who are not for me, but for people who can afford it.”

Billy Joel may need to update his mind on Hackensack – a town he may not know today.

Jay Levin is a former reporter for the Record and a contributor to the New York Times Real estate area. He lives in Teaneck.

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