WEST ORANGE, NJ — Construction has finally begun on the long-stalled Edison Village project, approximately 10 years after the township first entered into a redevelopment agreement to build the mixed-use complex.
According to Mayor Robert Parisi, workers have started interior demolition within the Edison Battery building, clearing some of the existing infrastructure in preparation for the construction of the residential and retail spaces that will go there. In the coming weeks, Parisi said they will also begin doing foundation work for the planned parking garage and the buildings that will go in front of it since they have received the permits to do so.
For the mayor, seeing this work represents a big step forward on a project that many critics doubted would ever get off the ground.
“I’m very happy,” Parisi told the West Orange Chronicle in a March 28 phone interview. “It’s been a long time, and (the project) has survived a lot of challenges. So I’m very happy about it.”
And there is plenty of work in the pipeline as well. Parisi said project redeveloper DGP Urban Renewal LLC — which took over from longtime redeveloper GP 177 Main Urban Renewal LLC after obtaining its sought-after $70 million construction loan and executing the August 2015 redevelopment agreement last month — recently submitted design plans for the overall project to the township. He said West Orange officials are now reviewing those plans and will issue building permits if they’re approved. But any such approval will not happen for “a little while,” the mayor said, since “tons and tons” of documents and architectural renderings were submitted.
Right now though, residents driving past the property will notice that no heavy equipment is currently at the site. This has raised the question of whether construction officially started within the mandated 30-day window following the agreement’s execution. The redevelopment agreement states that the commencement of construction shall mean “the date on which the construction force and machinery is mobilized for construction of the Phase 1 project in accordance with governmental approvals.”
Councilman Joe Krakoviak, for one, said it appears to him that the lack of heavy equipment on site means DGP is not complying with the agreement’s language. Though he is pleased that progress is finally being made on the project after “a decade of waiting and frustration,” Krakoviak said a default notice should be issued to the redeveloper if the township rules that DGP is, in fact, not following the contract.
“Given the long and sad history of nonperformance by the previous redeveloper, Prism, the town should hold the new redeveloper to its contractual obligations, particularly since the ink is barely dry on the current governing documents,” Krakoviak said in a March 29 email. “DGP’s six-month delay in signing the documents and the potential lack of compliance on construction is definitely not what most people were expecting.”
But Parisi said the project has started, as far as the township is concerned. Aside from the fact that workers are clearly working at the site, he said the administration is continuously meeting with the redeveloper to discuss the plans. The township will deal with any delays if they come up, but he said there are no plans right now for the township to start picking apart DGP’s contract.
Jack Sayers, the Township business administrator, agrees with that sentiment. Though he does not know when the machinery will be brought to the property, Sayers told the Chronicle that he does not believe the fact that it is not there means construction has not been started.
“Just because they don’t have a crane on the property doesn’t mean they’re not working,” Sayers said in a March 24 phone interview, explaining that he interprets the language in the agreement as really just meaning to ensure that work would begin soon after the document was executed. “I don’t see the reason to (take action) as long as they’re diligently working toward getting everything done.”
Council President Victor Cirilo also pointed out that the council has requested that DGP provide progress reports on construction, which could be a way of ensuring that the redeveloper is doing all required work in a timely fashion.
Cirilo does have one concern about the project, however — the rainwater ponding that has occurred in the approximate area of where the garage will be built. Though he is not worried about the collected water affecting the construction schedule, pointing out that he is sure the professionals involved will know exactly how to handle the situation, he said he is concerned that allowing the pooling to remain on the property for an extended period of time could create a health hazard. The council president said it is important for township officials to make sure that the project is being maintained to prevent the water from attracting mosquitoes or other unwanted wildlife as the weather starts to turn warm.
Parisi said the West Orange Health Department is aware of the situation and is currently working with the redeveloper to correct it.
Aside from the ponding issue, Cirilo said he is excited to see the Edison Village project moving forward after so many years. Though it has taken a lot of effort to stay the course over the past decade, he said the wait will be worthwhile once project starts benefiting the downtown area.
“I just can’t wait for this project to be thoroughly completed so that we can start seeing the effects that it’ll have in helping to revitalize that area of town,” Cirilo told the Chronicle in a March 25 phone interview. “The luxury rentals should bring in a demographic that can help develop new patronage for the downtown businesses. And once people start seeing the buildings go up and the investment going in and the additional demographics coming in, (existing business owners) will feel more motivated to invest in their businesses. That’s the goal.”
Cirilo added that outside businesses will want to move to West Orange. In fact, he said he has already directed some that have expressed an interest to the Downtown West Orange Alliance. And, in addition to new people moving into town, Cirilo said he knows some current residents who are looking to downsize hope to move into the rentals.
According to the redevelopment agreement, the entire Edison Village project is required to be completed no later than Feb. 1, 2019.