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>Village Council: Read This Before You Vote On North Walnut Street Redevelopment Project

>With no tenants, stores put on hold

Sunday, December 14, 2008

RIVER EDGE – Construction of new retail space on the site of the former Huffman Koos furniture store will be delayed because developers say they are having difficulty securing tenants.

Demolition of the site at Route 4 and Kinderkamack Road is nearly complete, but there is no start date for construction. The economic slump has made possible tenants scarce, builders said.

“The new project will be delayed until tenancies can be secured,” said Paul Ciancia, a property co-owner. “It obviously doesn’t make much sense to build a multimillion-dollar center if there’s no tenant.”

Ciancia said he expects the project to go forward at a later date.

The developers received Planning Board approval last year to build two new retail buildings on the site in the Kinderkamack Road corridor slated for redevelopment.

Chuck Lanyard, president of the Goldstein Group, said the developers and retail outlets alike are waiting for an indication that the economy is on the mend before expanding. The Goldstein Group is marketing the town center.

“The retailer attitude is, ‘Why push to open more stores?’ ” Lanyard said. “They want to concentrate on making the stores they already have open as profitable as possible.”

Lanyard said that at a recent shopping center convention, retailers and developers were making plans and talking about future deals when the economy turns the corner. He is optimistic that the Huffman Koos project will lock in tenants and is courting gourmet supermarkets as potential users of the space.

Mayor Margaret Falahee Watkins said she was concerned about just what the Huffman Koos project’s difficulties would mean for redevelopment elsewhere along the corridor.

“I’m concerned that we really need to have redevelopment, but I think everyone is going to be at a standstill for quite a while,” Watkins said. “The major reason for it was to give tax relief. … I would pray there’s going to be some kind of relief because our residents are going to suffer, and I feel badly about it.”

The Huffman Koos site was not included in a list of buildings designated as an area in need of redevelopment by the Borough Council in 2006, but it sits near several properties in that zone. The Planning Board approved demolition of the existing building and construction of two new ones last October.

Councilman Thomas Smith said he had hoped the Huffman Koos project would spur other local developers to start their own projects. He said he was worried about the loss of tax revenue once the building is down if the owners should ask for a reassessment.

“I do believe if they put a good, viable project up there, it would encourage other owners in that area,” Smith said.

One downtown property owner said he is sticking by a plan to develop an abandoned site on Johnson Avenue next to Route 4. Calisto Bertin said he is using the economic downturn to secure permits from the borough and Department of Environmental Protection. By the time that process is done in approximately two years, he hopes the economy will have recovered.

“The economy is terrible now, and anyone who has property on the market right now knows it’s very difficult,” Bertin said. “But the thing is, we’re going to start now, and by the time we get through the approval process … our feeling is, the market will rebound.”

Bertin has received approval from the mayor and council to build a six-, eight- or 12-story building, with the first floor devoted to retail and the rest to dwelling units and possibly office space. A specific plan must still be finalized and approved by the Planning Board.

Smith said another property owner downtown is also floating a plan to construct a five- or six-story building, and yet another hopes to refurbish an existing building. All are continuing negotiations with the mayor and council. NJ Transit is also set to begin constructing mixed-use buildings near the North Hackensack train station, but has not yet sent out a request for proposals.

Redevelopment attorney Colin Quinn said developers are still negotiating and spending money on planners and architects, which is a good sign that construction will start eventually.

“There’s people working on this, and they’re spending time, money and effort on it,” Quinn said. “Once they see the appropriate economic indicators are there, they’re going to build the projects.”

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