UNION, NJ — When residents pushed for redevelopment in Union’s Special Improvement District, township administrators listened, and thus began the he face-lift to the town’s economic center.
It started in 2014 with the development of a high-end, mixed-use building on the corner of Morris and Stuyvesant avenues that is now home to two eateries and several retail stores.
Union Mayor Manuel Figueiredo, along with the township committee, recently announced that improvements to Union Center will continue along Stuyvesant Avenue, as American Landmark Developers has acquired several properties near Bonnel Court, with another mixed-use project anticipated in the imminent future.
A similar project is already underway on Stuyvesant Avenue across from O Lagar Bar, Restaurant and Winery.
Figueiredo told LocalSource in an email that the needs of today’s communities are changing, and the township must keep up with these changes. “I think it’s no secret that the needs of modern Americans are changing and there are a lot of factors contributing to that, including the housing market,” Figueiredo said. “The priorities of societies are shifting such that home ownership and the responsibilities that come with it are not so high on the list. As such, we see many cities and states shifting their focus to provide people with more options.
So, while I wouldn’t go as far as saying that mixed-use is the wave of the future — in a way that would eradicate homeownership — as a township, we need to address the needs of a demographic that is growing nationally.”
According to Union Business Administrator Ron Manzella, the township wants to create a vibrant and progressive downtown. “I think that it should be said that the overall goals for many of our redevelopment projects — but especially these taking place in the Center — are two fold,” Manzella told LocalSource. “One is very obviously aesthetic, where we want to bring a certain vibrancy back to the area, but also economic as well.”
Manzella said that the vision for the downtown area is one of convenience and beauty. “The vision is to have these beautiful new residences and to anchor them with service-oriented businesses that would provide a huge convenience for our residents, like dry cleaners, coffee shops, eateries and food stores,” said Manzella. “As a result, people will not only be able to live in a beautiful, state-of the-art building, but have all of the conveniences they need close enough where we will have a constant flow of foot traffic in the Center. Studies have shown that foot traffic is what, in turn, generates interest from other retailers to set up shop in town — in other words, the tried and true concept, “if you build it, they will come.”
Robert Perara, a Union business owner and resident, said he believes the redevelopment is a win-win for everyone. “ I own a business as well as live in Union Center and I, for one, am excited to see the redevelopment happen,” Perara told LocalSource. “High-end rentals draw city commuters into the business district. They spend their money at local establishments, they have little to no effect on the school system and as long as the town takes care of providing enough parking, I see it as a win-win situation for all involved.”
Union resident Craig Luftig is also on board. “This is long past due,” Luftig told LocalSource. “I hate having to shop and dine in other communities. Union is totally ripe for this, so looking forward to it.”
Union resident Marc Wolf, said he hopes Union Center returns to its days of glory that he recalls as a child. “ I miss the old Union Center,” Wolf said. “I got all of my shoes as a little boy at Union Bootery, and shopped at Maxine’s and Melody Records. Hopefully they can start attracting some quality tenants and add some charm back to the center.”
Figueiredo also cites Union’s diversity, transit system and location as just some of the reasons developers seek out Union. “The township of Union is not only a community overflowing with diversity, but we are a transit-oriented microcosm,” Figueiredo said. “And while we actively try to attract businesses, corporations and developers in order to continue to grow in a progressive direction, developers are actually seeking us out because of our proximity to New York City and our recently reaffirmed AA+ bond rating. We also have several major thoroughfares and modes of transportation which cut right through town, including direct bus service and train service to NYC, which is direct for all but peak hours.”
The mayor pointed out that Union Center has been in a state of rebirth for some time. “What started with our first mixed-use model on Stuyvesant and Morris avenues — which has been highly popular and has a waitlist for residents — has flourished into something greater,” said Figueiredo. “The township has worked tirelessly to fill vacancies that have resulted in a new caliber of business, the likes of Gusta Rosso, Calesa, Bon Chon, Woodstack and BCB Bank, which will be opening soon. We also implemented a property tax reward program to which more than 20 businesses have registered.”
Manzella said the new mixed-use properties are a boon for the local economy. “This creates a hotbed for economic growth that has the potential to touch the far corners of the township,” said Manzella.
Manzella also noted that there is a misconception as far as other properties in the Center. “I think there exists a misconception where a lot of the residents think the township owns them, or that we can tell them what to do with their property — and that just isn’t so,” said Manzella. “We have been fortunate enough that certain developers have been successful in buying up those that are available and endeavoring to invest in them in a way that will redefine the Center.”
In concert with that, said Manzella, the township is actively encouraging other property owners to maintain and update their facades and signage. “We’re hoping that the Seabra’s and Landmark projects will be the catalyst to get them to do so,” Manzella said.
The two mixed-use anchor projects are the next phase in that rebirth, said Figueiredo, referring to the Seabra’s project, already underway on Stuyvesant Avenue across from O Lagar Bar, Restaurant and Winery, and the American Landmark Developers project on Stuyvesant Avenue. According to Figueiredo, the project will span more than 300 linear feet along Stuyvesant Avenue, starting at Terminal Mills. The project will also include the ConnectOne Bank property on Bonnel Court.
Union Deputy Mayor Suzette Cavadas told LocalSource that improvements to the downtown are evident. “I think it’s evident that there is a lot going on with the center,” Cavadas said in an email. “We are battling negligent property owners who refuse to sell their properties, which has caused some angst among our residents. The township has been, and continues to be, aggressive to re-energize this area and I think it has most certainly begun to pay off.”
Cavadas noted that since improvements began, merchants have reported increased foot traffic to the area. “Since the completion of the mixed-use building on the corner of Morris and Stuyvesant avenues, merchants have been reporting increased foot traffic, and we can only hope that will continue to increase with the completion of the Seabra’s and Landmark Developers projects.”
Manzella said that although it is too early to determine what new businesses will join Union’s redevelopment, the township is ready and willing to create a business district that serves the community. “I know that the developers have a vision for who and what they would like to see occupy the spaces, and we will certainly work with them to ensure that what comes is what’s best for our community.”