Harrison NoG Case Study: Creating a Sense of Place in Industrial No Man’s Land

JERSEY CITY, NJ — The southern portion of Harrison, New Jersey has seen a transformation in the last ten years. No longer just an industrial area, it’s become a transit-oriented region with a wealth of amenities and a thriving community. However, the best part of the revitalization may still be to come. GRO Architects have submitted a proposal for a long-term project called Harrison North of Guyon (NoG) which would result a 242,276 square-foot, 20-story office tower; 15,027 square feet of retail space; a hotel and more. This project is on the cutting edge of development in New Jersey, so at CapRE’s Gold Coast Commercial Real Estate Summit last week, we welcomed Richard Garber, Partner at GRO Architects to share more about it.

“This is a little bit of an industrial no man’s land, with multiple land owners,” he began. “It previously had industrial use and it ends up being approximately a 16 acre tract of land that happens to be between the Harrison PATH Station and the Red Bull Arena.”

Richard Garber, Partner, GRO Architects

Garber then pointed out the land can be accessed within about twenty-five minutes from downtown Manhattan. “So you can see the kind of rail infrastructure between New Jersey Transit and the PATH that we have, which can get us from the World Trade Center or up at 42nd Street, all of the way to Hudson County, as well as into Harrison and some parts of Essex County. And once you get hit Newark Penn Station, you can get anywhere in the country,” he listed. “The amount of transit that we actually have at our fingerprints here is quite remarkable. It’s something that we as developers, finance people and designers should be tapping more into.”

However, Garber was then quick to clarify that there is a greater sense of purpose to this project. “When you think about transferring all of this to development with this kind of infrastructure, it’s not only bringing people to the community and growing the community, which we need to sustain this area. But it’s also about creating a kind of lifestyle experience for the commuters,” he said. “Many people come up from Monmouth County and other places, and park in the lots. And there’s also the weekend crew that actually takes the PATH out from New York City. There’s a real confluence of people here on a very, very under-utilized swath of around 16 acres of land.”

And GRO is not the first firm to start looking at the space. “There’s been some development in the area, especially adjacent to the PATH station,” offered Garber. “The port Authority is undertaking a complete revitalization actually, to better serve commuters. There’s a lot of surface parking and there’s a lot of under-utilized structures. You see this as a sort of a fantastic opportunity, in terms of imagining what could happen in a place that many people think of as an outlier.”

After all, Harrison is in Hudson County, even if the industry is far more familiar with what’s happening in Jersey City. “We’re immensely interested in projects in Jersey City, but I’ve really become interested in places like this and places like Bayonne, where you have the opportunity to implement these large-scale plans and a sense of place over a ten of fifteen year phase,” he intimated.

One of the pervasive issues of the project has to do with something we often forget about — parking. “This site plan that we came up with, you see a tremendous amount of undeveloped land. We’re only speculating right now in about 11 acres. And one of the things that we’ve been required to do is take on this issue of parking, in particular the issue of structured parking, given this area,” he shared.

“In addition to there being fairly strong opinions about parking in places like Harrison and Bayonne, where people still need a parking spot, and is not what we’re seeing in places like Jersey City, which is far more progressive when it comes to that, we also have parking quotas that have been put in place by the municipality,” revealed Garber. “So we are really carrying here, for about 900 units, something like 3800 parking spaces spread through three structured parking decks. So this is something that we’ve been grappling with.”

Despite this small hurdle, GRO has decided to be forward-thinking with their parking plans. “I think that what is really interesting here is that we’re really starting to design these decks…with the kinds of spans that work for parking and, in other words, are efficient,” he revealed. “If at some point, the need for parking drops off, we can re-use them and make them a commercial space. so there is already some kind of thinking about an adaptive re-use sort of idea.”

And at the end of the day, there’s no where to go but up, according to Garber. “We have a hotel component, we have a bunch of areas that can be used for landscaping, as well as an office tower on the corner which is twenty stories, and mid-rise housing in the middle,” he offered. “That means about 7 or 8 stories, as well as a tower that can basically sustain about 20 stories and about 300 residential units. The idea here is that we’re really shooting for a sweet spot of about 900 or 1000 residential units as a first phase of community-making.”