Once-Industrial Town Is Undergoing Major Redevelopment
By Melanie Lefkowitz
Updated Sept. 26, 2014 9:47 p.m. ET
A couple walks on Harrison Avenue.
The town of Harrison, N.J., has long offered its residents a friendly, diverse and safe community; easy access to Newark, Jersey City and Manhattan; and relatively affordable wood-frame houses on quiet streets.
“I just like the general feeling of being able to walk around the streets, talk to people,” says the mayor, James Fife, who moved in 1966 to Harrison, a Hudson County town of about 14,000 people situated across the Passaic River from Newark. “You know your neighbors. It’s a nice little town.”
But the little town is growing. The once-industrial community is in the midst of a major redevelopment, with about 700 new residences as well as hotels and retail establishments opening downtown and construction of a new, $256-million PATH station. The Red Bull Arena, home to a Major League Soccer team, opened in 2010. More housing and retail construction is under way.
The 138-room Element Harrison-Newark, a Starwood hotel, opened in August. A 141-unit luxury rental complex, the Water’s Edge at Harrison, began offering leases last week for apartments that will be available starting in October.
Town leaders and developers are optimistic that the changes will revitalize Harrison. Once known as “the beehive of industry,” the town’s population of 14,000 ballooned to 90,000 each workday in the mid-20th century. But after its large manufacturers relocated to other states, the town suffered from decades of neglect, with rising taxes and shrinking services.
“We were left with big, hulking buildings and not too much revenue,” says Mr. Fife, who took over stewardship of the redevelopment projects from his predecessor, Raymond McDonough, who died earlier this year.
The plans have been more than a decade in the making, but were slowed by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the economic recession. “It’s taken a while, but now we seem to be moving in a positive direction,” Mr. Fife says.
The Harrison Public Library.
Developers say they are drawn by the town’s location along the PATH line, offering residents a quick commute to job hubs in Newark, Jersey City, Hoboken and Manhattan, as well as the existing urban infrastructure.
“We’re one of several redevelopers in Harrison, and we’re transforming what was an older urban area that hasn’t had a lot of development in years into a forward modern community,” says Michael Barry, president of Ironstate Holdings.
Ironstate and the Pegasus Group own the Element hotel and are developing the Harrison Station rental complex next to the PATH station. The project is expected to eventually encompass 2,250 luxury apartments and 80,000 square feet of retail space in seven buildings, including the hotel. “We’re bringing street retail, restaurants and shops back to downtown Harrison,” says Mr. Barry.
A clock by Town Hall.
Rentals at Harrison Station, which currently has 275 units, cost about $30 a square foot, with a 700-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment renting for around $1,800 a month, Mr. Barry says. Apartments in the Water’s Edge, on Dey Street near the Passaic River, are around $1,700 a month for a one-bedroom and $2,200 for a two-bedroom apartment, according to the developer, BNE Real Estate Group.
One- and two-family houses on Harrison’s residential streets, as well as two-bedroom condominiums, generally sell for around $200,000 to $300,000. The median listing price of all listings in Harrison in August was $275,000, says Zillow.com
, a 19% drop from the same month in 2013.
Independently owned shops and restaurants can be found along the town’s main thoroughfare of Harrison Avenue, including many reflecting the growing Latino community. Once largely Polish and Italian, Harrison’s population is now about 44% Hispanic and 16% Asian, according to census data.
The Port Authority’s replacement of the town’s 76-year-old PATH station with a modern facility is a selling point for new residents, developers say.
“The PATH link…is a huge driver in this day and age. People want to be close to where they work,” Mr. Barry says. “It makes a huge difference.”
Parks: West Hudson Park, in Harrison and neighboring Kearny, is a 46-acre Hudson County park with ball fields, a gazebo and the 2-acre Fairy Lake. Veterans Plaza is a green space on Harrison Avenue.
Schools: Harrison has four public schools with an enrollment of around 2,000 students.
According to 2012-2013 state data, the high school outperforms 43% of schools across the state when it comes to academic achievement. Its graduation rate was 91%. The U.S. Department of Education named Harrison High School a blue-ribbon school in 2013.
Dining: Restaurants include many international and ethnic restaurants reflecting the town’s diverse population. Among the new establishments that have opened downtown are Sakura Japan and an outpost of Five Guys Burgers & Fries, both on Frank E. Rodgers Boulevard South.
Shopping: Shops and services can be found along Harrison Avenue, including the Farinhas Bakery, a Portuguese bakery. Larger stores can be found in Kearny.
Red Bull Arena.