Shops Claim a Once-Gritty Waterfront
When Lois Fein moved to Edgewater in 1984, the three-and-a-half-mile-long borough, which sits eight minutes south of the George Washington Bridge, had a waterfront so blighted with dilapidated old factories that it was impossible to see the Hudson River.
The borough, which hugs a thin strip of land along the river, still bears traces of its gritty past, including a large Hess oil terminal between shopping centers on River Road, a main thoroughfare. But like other Gold Coast communities in Bergen and Hudson Counties, the waterfront here currently draws attention for its dense lineup of luxury rental apartments and condos.
Now plans are moving forward to remake the last large piece of waterfront property in Edgewater, a 22-acre site that once held a large research and development complex for Unilever, the food and consumer products giant.
In 2004, Unilever sold the site to National Resources, a developer based in Greenwich, Conn. It wants to convert the site to a mixed-use center, at a cost that may reach $250 million.
This development, to be called Edgewater Square, would bring both more residences and some 75,000 square feet of retail space to a community that real estate professionals say has already turned into a potent pocket market for retailing.
“Tenants in general are very excited about coming to Edgewater,” said Jon P. Schweitzer, whose investment company, Landmark Resources, based in Scotch Plains, bought a shopping center on River Road in 2004. “Because of the affluence and high education of the community, its youth and its diversity, it’s become a real hotbed for retail.”
Unilever’s old site, where products like Dove soap, Wisk laundry detergent and Snuggle fabric softener were developed, still has a high fence, but National Resources has already taken down half a dozen buildings. It has also begun to address environmental contamination that John Candelmo, a construction official for the borough, described as minor.
This spring, the company expects to break ground on a 22,000-square-foot municipal building that will act as a centerpiece for Edgewater Square and replace a severely cramped and outmoded structure that the borough has used since 1908.
Plans for Edgewater Square call for 300 rental apartments and 120 condominium lofts to be housed in two old Unilever buildings parallel to the Hudson River. Eventually, National Resources also hopes to offer a 1,600-foot-long public walkway along the Hudson, a parking deck for some 1,300 cars, and a host of local and national retailers in at least five new buildings.
“The goal is to create a Main Street for Edgewater,” with the municipal building near stores, said Matthew K. Harding, president and chief operating officer of Levin Management, a North Plainfield brokerage firm that is marketing the retail space.
Lynne Ward, a principal at National Resources, said her company saw an opportunity at the Unilever site because the borough’s population had more than doubled over the last 10 years, to about 10,000 residents, and its demographics had flip-flopped.
“Edgewater has become cosmopolitan, and it has become young,” she said.
Retail developers have not always had an easy time in Edgewater. Local residents and real estate executives remember the ho-hum lineup of mostly service-oriented retailers that used to dominate the community shopping center on River Road that Landmark Resources now owns.
But in November, a Trader Joe’s food store opened at the 90,000-square-foot center, called the Marketplace at Edgewater. While Mr. Schweitzer hopes to keep the center’s neighborhoodlike feel, his company has already spent $3 million on renovations.
Edgewater’s retail mix is changing to reflect the borough’s more cosmopolitan makeup. While it has long been home to Mitsuwa Marketplace, which has a number of Japanese retailers, it now has four other main shopping areas.
They include Edgewater Towne Center, home to a waterfront Whole Foods store, as well as Edgewater Commons, a mostly big-box center that includes Target and Staples stores. In the last five years, the borough has started to get more upscale retailers like Guess and Anthropologie at City Place, a mixed-use retail, residential and hotel complex north of the Unilever site.
“People are starting to realize that even though an area like Paramus may have everything, if you can open up a second store in Edgewater, you can do very well,” said James Aug, a senior vice president at the retail services group of CB Richard Ellis in Hoboken.
By SANA SIWOLOP