The Jersey City Redevelopment Agency has reached an agreement with Landmark Developers that calls for constructing a hotel on two tracts near Liberty State Park. There’s just one problem: The company does not own the properties and the actual owner, New Jersey Transit, has not announced plans to sell or redevelop the site yet.
Back in March 2018, we revealed that Garfield Avenue-based Landmark was planning to construct the 120-room Morris Hotel at 269 and 273 Communipaw Avenue in Bergen-Lafayette. The complex is also slated to include a public lobby area, a restaurant, and a coffee shop called the Muddy Cup.
At the time, the JCRA’s Board of Commissioners had just designated the company as the redeveloper of the site, which is situated adjacent to a residential street and NJT’s Hudson-Bergen Light Rail tracks. Although the resolution approving the designation stated that Landmark “will seek to enter into a purchase and sale agreement for the property,” NJT spokesperson Lisa Torbic told Jersey Digs shortly after the approval that the statewide public transportation agency “has not been contacted in connection with any interest by the developer to acquire the referenced property.”
Over a year has gone by since news of the proposed hotel first went public. Aside from when the JCRA’s Board of Commissioners extended the designation in August 2018, there has been barely any public discussion of the plans in the time since, until now.
Last month, the Board of Commissioners voted to approve a resolution authorizing a redevelopment agreement with Landmark regarding the hotel. The resolution stated in part that it is “in the JCRA’s best interest to enter into a redevelopment agreement…with the redeveloper for this project.”
Through a public records request, Jersey Digs exclusively obtained copies of the draft agreement and Landmark’s proposal to the JCRA for the properties. The proposal mentioned that the 178,000-square-foot complex will include a penthouse amenity space along with a rooftop deck. The “architectural style will pay homage to the industrial past of the Morris Canal and is intended to look like two multi-story warehouse buildings joined together by a modern connector building,” according to the document, which claimed that no environmental remediation will be needed at the site.
There are plans for 80 full-time and 40 part-time jobs at the Morris Hotel, but all of the financial information, including the estimated cost of the project, was redacted in the copy of the proposal that we obtained.
Should the project move forward, the Morris Hotel would be the first of its kind in Bergen-Lafayette and would be the closest hotel to the Liberty Science Center. However, it appears that the road to completion will be quite a long one. Not only does Landmark need to receive the necessary planning approvals from City Hall, but the company also needs to purchase or lease the land from NJT, a step that might be quite arduous.
Landmark’s plan stated that they intended to purchase the properties within six months after being designated as the redeveloper and that they planned to begin building on the premises six months later. Construction at the site was expected to be finished 18 months later. Additionally, the agreement mentioned that should NJT or Landmark end up not owning the properties, Landmark will have the ability to request that the JCRA “diligently pursue acquisition” of the properties at the company’s expense, possibly through eminent domain, before transferring ownership to Landmark.
The agreement also said that Landmark “shall use commercially reasonable efforts to acquire fee title to or a leasehold interest in the property in an arm’s length transaction” with NJT.
However, in a statement to Jersey Digs earlier this month, Torbic acknowledged that NJT is aware of the current interest in the site but explained that “any prospective conveyance of development rights or adaptive reuse of the property would be at the conclusion of an open, competitive procurement process.”
There is currently no mention of the site on NJT’s procurement calendar while the agency’s website shows that it currently has only one property that is listed for sale, which is a vacant lot in Paterson. Although NJT did recently launch a new website with Greystone Management Solutions to advertise development opportunities, the sole site that is featured is a tract near the Aberdeen-Matawan station in Monmouth County, with no mention of the Communipaw Avenue properties in Jersey City.
If Landmark is unable to acquire the title to the property from NJT within two years, the development firm will have the right to terminate the agreement.