EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ -- While much of the economic world remains in a state of limbo during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Route 18 Corridor Redevelopment Plan is continuing on uninterrupted, according to East Brunswick Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Michael Hughes.

"We are pressing forward in spite of the COVID-19 crisis," Hughes said earlier this week. "We are taking advantage of the opportunity. On the developers' side, this is one of the projects that the municipality is really committed to. It's allowed us to harness the horsepower of the redevelopment agency in town to do this."

The township has an agreement with River Development Equities of Red Bank to redevelop 44 acres of underutilized property on Route 18.  In place of several vacant or substandard structures in the northern end of Route 18 will be a mixed-use development valued at around $500 million.

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"We are negotiating a financial agreement with redeveloper, and we will keep that process moving forward with Zoom meetings and video conference calls," Hughes said. "On the acquisition front and the financial agreement front, both are looking good. Hopefully, given the guidance on as large of a project as this, the engineers will put site plans to work for Phase 1, which we want to be in front of the planning board later this year."

The project encompasses the southbound side of Route 18 from Lake Avenue to the Edgeboro Road jughandle. The demolition of some areas will begin this spring. The first section to be built will be a residential apartment retail complex. The whole project could take seven years to complete, with two or three phases of construction.

The area will include a hotel, common park-like areas in an open setting, a medical office center, retail/small business locations, an additional bus transportation center and a area for municipal government use. There will be about 800 residential units.

"Demolition is finishing up on the Wonder Bread site," Hughes said. "When dealing with the demolition and disposal of materials, we have had to work around some of the Governor's orders. That has delayed things a bit on the demolition side, because we have to follow the right protocols."

Hughes expects the redevelopment project to continue on schedule regardless of when the New Jersey economy begins to open up again and when the virus threat might begin to diminish.

"There is uncertainty everywhere, but we are moving forward as best we can," Hughes said. "Projects are moving forward, with certainty in the plans and in the support of the agency and the (township) administration.

"We continue to be kind of all systems go and working around the new normal," Hughes said. "We have relationships with folks we’re working with on the Route 18 corridor, so all of this is a glimmer of good news during a difficult time. People are looking for some certainty in the real estate and development world. We’re not missing a beat."