Newport’s master plan ambitions: Diversity and development at LeFrak’s Jersey City community

Posted On Mon, January 29, 2018 By

Posted On Mon, January 29, 2018 By In Features, New Jersey, real estate trends

Rendering of Newport’s new Park and Shore development

The mention of Newport conjures up images of yacht-filled harbors, gorgeous mansions, and beautiful beaches. But there is another Newport much closer to downtown Manhattan than Rhode Island and, amazingly, it also has yacht-filled harbors, beautiful residences, a beach, and unparalleled waterfront views.

A 600-acre, master-planned community that began almost 35 years ago by the LeFrak family, Newport, Jersey City is now hitting its stride. With sleek architecture, 15,000 residents, 20,000 professionals, a growing mix of retail and commercial options, and a location minutes from midtown and downtown Manhattan, Newport offers some appealing alternatives to those priced out of New York City or others looking for a slightly quieter option. The area boasts its diversity, but with a single family in charge of development and a skyline that looks more like Manhattan than Jersey City, is Newport just Manhattan-lite or does it truly have diversity with offerings for everyone?

Approaching the Newport waterfront, via Wiki Commons

Newport is a 600-acre former rail yard and maritime port in Jersey City (that is six times the size of Battery Park City). Newport is a master-planned community by the LeFrak Organization sitting right on the Hudson river with unobstructed views of the New York City skyline. It is minutes from Manhattan via the PATH, bus or car.

The LeFrak Organization acquired the property in 1985 for around $50 million and began building Newport in 1986. It is now home to more than 15,000 residents with 15 high-rise luxury rental buildings, three condominium towers, and eight office towers which provide over six million square feet of office space to more than 20,000 professionals, two hotels and 30 acres of parks, playgrounds and multiple public spaces.

Initially, the commercial spaces were filled with banking and financial services firms but the corporate base is now diversifying with companies like Tory Burch and L’Oreal recently signing leases in the area. Tory Burch leased 93,000 square feet of office space at 499 Washington Boulevard, the same building that just filled its street-level commercial space with a Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. L’Oréal USA Inc. will move into a 60,000 square foot office space at 111 Town Square Place in Jersey City.

Other new retail, dining, and entertainment coming to Newport are the Japanese noodle restaurant Menya Sandaime, the taqueria Los Cuernos, and the first Wang Chen Table Tennis Club, developed by Olympic champion Wang Chen (now open).

Map showing the PATH routes for Newport, via Ellipse

The LeFrak Family

Newport is the brainchild of the LeFrak family who own more than 40 million square feet of residential, commercial and retail holdings nationwide. Richard LeFrak, the president and CEO of the LeFrak Organization, has been a great chum of Donald Trump’s for over 50 years. LeFrak was also one of the two New York City developers (along with Steven Roth) named to head up Trump’s “Infrastructure Council” aimed at advising Trump’s proposal to allocate $1 trillion to upgrade roads, bridges, airports and other aging infrastructure. The council was disbanded in August 2017.

The LeFrak Organization began in 1901 when Harry LeFrak came to New York to work with Louis Comfort Tiffany as a professional glass installer (aka a glazier). Harry LeFrak’s first foray into real estate was his purchase of 120 acres in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Harry’s son Samuel took over the company after Harry died and was responsible for massive growth of the business during the post-war construction boom. In 2003, Samuel died and his son Richard took over the company. Richard is now grooming his two sons, Harrison and James, to be the fourth generation of LeFraks at the helm. Richard is responsible for growing the business nationwide and investing in natural resources through oil wells and mineral rights.

According to Arthur Kosmider, Director of Marketing at LeFrak, “What differentiates us is that we are long-term. We are a family-owned, multigenerational company that is not looking to sell but rather build a long-term residential, business and recreational destination for people of all ages and backgrounds.”

In addition to receiving many tax breaks over the years, Newport was quickly connected by transportation via the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey which made PATH train and station improvements to ease the commute from Manhattan to Newport (which is now only 10 minutes to Wall Street and 20 minutes to midtown). Additionally, one of the largest public works projects in New Jersey, the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail, began operating a stop in Newport.

James W. Hughes, the dean of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University, was quoted in a New York Times article, “It was infrastructure that made Newport possible.”

Newport Now

Rendering of the Ellipse, via LeFrak

Samuel LeFrak’s common refrain was, “’We serve the mass, not the class.” His son Richard has reversed that. Newport is all about luxury.

Previously, LeFrak’s buildings were not architecturally significant but now they are commissioning brand-name architects like Miami-based Arquitectonica to design their sleek towers, like Ellipse, a new rental tower launched in May that is already 90 percent full. The 41-story curved building is home to Jersey City’s most expensive rental apartment, a sprawling four-bedroom penthouse that recently leased for $10,995/month within a day of being listed.

Renderings of the Ellipse, via LeFrak

Ellipse has 24-hour doormen, a state-of-the-art fitness center overlooking the Hudson, an outdoor pool deck with a kiddie pool nearby, a co-working space, lounge and a deluxe game room.
According to the Wall Street Journal, LeFrak had to import 50,000 tons of dirt to help bring the building’s first floor up to about 13 feet to comply with post-Sandy flood regulations.

The Shore House, via Strategic Capital

Another new residential development, the Park and Shore, is the first luxury condominium development in Newport in nearly 10 years and, perhaps more interestingly, it is the first non-LeFrak development. Developed by Strategic Capital, the investment arm of China Construction America, and designed by the “people architecture” firm Woods Bagot, the two-building project will provide 429 new residences. Both buildings, the Park and the Shore sit on the newly developed Newport Green Park and have views of the Hudson river.

The two buildings, the Park and the Shore, will be very different in style. At 37-stories high, 75 Park Lane will feature a light gray façade with terracotta accents. Many of the apartments will have private balconies and outdoor space, while each residence boasts large windows with an abundance of natural light.

Alternatively, the seven-story Shore House takes its design inspiration from the industrial lofts of Brooklyn and Tribeca. The Shore House offers “avant-garde” designed residences ranging from one- to two-bedrooms with expansive chef’s kitchens and master baths outfitted with limestone and include frameless all-glass showers and light-filled master bedrooms with large walk-in closets.

Park and Shore’s rooftop putting green, via Strategic Capital

The Park and Shore share amenities like a dining room and wine tasting area, co-working spaces, a game room featuring pool, ping-pong and foosball tables, a multi-purpose entertainment room with surround-sound audio and retractable screens and a separate golf room complete with golf simulator, a children’s room, and most impressive: a windowed Olympic swimming pool 82 feet in length and a dramatically lit teak-lined spa featuring Hammam-style steam rooms and saunas, as well as a state-of-the-art gym with yoga studio.

Recreation and Amenities

Recreation map of Newport, via Newport

Here is a summary of the major resources and recreation facilities in Newport:

Newport Swim and Fitness: a wellness complex with a swimming pool and sundeck, outdoor tennis and basketball courts, fitness facilities with state-of-the-art equipment, private training and group classes, a sauna, steam room and tanning beds.

Newport Green: a 4.25 acre park with the only urban beach on the Hudson River in addition to a 17,000-square-foot playground with a splash pad; a 30,000-square-foot turf field; an outdoor ping-pong table; a carousel; a boardwalk; and free wifi. Approximately three acres of Newport Green is dedicated landscaped lawns designed by Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects, showcasing the region’s native plantings and special planting areas such as a fragrance garden, a butterfly garden, and a rose garden.

Hudson River Waterfront Walkway: a walking/bike path that runs along the Hudson River and provides direct pedestrian access to Hoboken from Newport.

Newport Skates: An outdoor uncovered ice skating rink is open from November to March. In the warmer months, the space converts to an open seating area with a section of water play features.

Town Square Plaza: This tree-shaded plaza overlooks the river and hosts a variety of special events throughout the year, including the annual tree lighting in December, Summer Concert Series and Movies Under The Stars.

Newport Yacht Club & Marina: Normally, local docks and piers can accommodate more than 180 boats and yachts, including in-water winter storage and 24-hour dock and perimeter security but on May 25, 2017, the marina temorarily closed. According to Kosmider, the coast guard decided certain parts of the the marina were deemed unsafe and required preventative maintenance. Michael Revier, General Manager of the marina, said, “Right now we are expecting to reopen the marina in the spring, however it is not yet clear how much dock space we will have available, or exactly when we can move vessels back in.”

Two “Onsite” Schools

Stevens Cooperative School: founded in 1949, is accredited by the New Jersey Association of Independent Schools. Stevens places strong emphasis on an integrated curriculum, problem solving, decision-making and the development of 21st Century skills. Its Newport campus serves Kindergarten-8th grade students.

Newport’s River School: The first childcare center on the Jersey City waterfront. Offering full-day childcare and education for children from two months through six years old. The school offers a Manhattan connection via affiliate campuses located in the heart of the city.

Stores

Newport Centre Mall: The mall spans 1.2 million square feet across three floors, featuring more than 130 speciality stores and an 11-screen AMC Cineplex. The mall attracts 13 million shoppers each year. Newport Centre is anchored by Macy’s, JCPenney, Kohl’s and Sears.

The Newport River Market: 50 shops ranging from everyday conveniences to major national chains such as Morton Williams, Duane Reade, Target, Staples and Modell’s.

Masterplan Realities

An aerial shot of Jersey City with Newport in the foreground, via David Jones/Flickr

Master-planned communities can often feel a bit Truman Show-esque. Newport looks more like Manhattan than Jersey City. That is definitely the major concern that Red Hook has about the developer AECOM’s plans for their Brooklyn neighborhood.

In Newport, for example, because there is one landlord in town, the neighborhood has its own Residential Customer Service office (near the Duane Reade) where tenants can go to complain. And, since many of the streets are private, the parking meter fees on those blocks go to the LeFrak Organization, not the city. Although New Jersey does not have the same affordable housing percentage requirements as New York, Kosmider says several buildings in the Newport neighborhood participate in the NJHMFA moderate income program

But the thing that Newport has in its favor is the long-term outlook of development which helps create more diversity and, perhaps, a more organic growth to the master plan. If every building and every resource were built at the same time, the community may feel more homogenous and less “natural.” That being said, it is still a master-plannedd community and the transition between Newport and the rest of Jersey City is a bit abrupt.

Phillip Gesue, Chief Development Officer at Strategic Capital, commented, “Newport today is very much like Battery Park City 15-20 years ago. Battery Park has become more built out with better retail and a more mature, diverse and interesting community. We are seeing that same thing happening here.” Gesue explains that as the second and third round of retailers move in, there are many more interesting choices available. “All of those things will help to develop Newport into an urban, diverse and interesting place. Newport if evolving.”

The LeFrak Organization has exciting news coming out in the next few months. It will be interesting to see what comes next.

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