WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange mayor and council heard a presentation by the administration and representatives of the new owners of Essex Green and the Executive Drive Office Park behind it last week about the potential for creating a redevelopment area that would combine the open shopping mall and the office buildings.
Together, the mall and office building area sit on 65 acres of land in the heart of West Orange, according to the presentation. Clarion Partners purchased Essex Green for $97 million in March 2016.
“What we love about Essex Green is that it is in the center of town and has two strong anchors: ShopRite and the AMC Theater,” said Lauren Holden, of Clarion Partners. “We also love that LA Fitness has gone in there…There are a lot of tenants interested in being there.”
Holden said that Clarion would like to improve this asset, which was built in 1957 and renovated last in 1991. She said the 77-percent occupancy rate is down from its more-traditionally 90-percent occupancy rate for most of its history.
According to Holden, Clarion is looking into ways to “activate the courtyard area,” which is now underused. She said retailers today want wider stores with large frontage signage, which no longer works with Essex Green’s narrower, deeper stores.
Sam Kupferstein, vice president of operations for Renova Equities, said his firm wants the Executive Drive Office Park to be fully integrated with the mall area, and would bring the offices together with retailers and new residential space. He said that only 42 percent of the office space is now occupied, and the buildings need to be entirely renovated to help companies moving there to recruit and retain high quality employees.
Jonathan Schwartz, a principal of the BNE Real Estate Group, said his firm would look forward to working with the new owners on this project.
“We can create a wonderful live, work, play environment,” he said. “You have all the components to make this a highly successful project.”
Richard Trenk, attorney for the township, said that the “potential for this project is amazing.”
“This is why I’m urging the council to allow the West Orange Planning Board to see if this project is eligible for redevelopment funds,” said Trenk.
The council passed a resolution directing the planning board to investigate whether the designated area nearby Essex Green and Executive Drive constitutes a need for redevelopment consistent with the Municipal Land Use Law. In addition, it passed a resolution authorizing the retention of Phillips Preiss Grygiel, LLC to prepare a report to examine whether the designated area would be eligible for redevelopment funding from the state.