WEST ORANGE, NJ -- After years of delay, work on the redevelopment of the Edison Battery Factory has begun.
Dune Realty Partners is the developer in charge of the project. Ownership was transferred to Dune from Prism, which remains the general contractor on the project. Another Prism project in town is the soon-to-be completed LA Fitness center located near Essex Green.
PNC, the financer for the Edison project, signed the papers with Dune in early March. That set an instant schedule which had to be met, with work needing to begin no later than a month from the signing.
West Orange Township Councilman Jerry Guarino said some of the initial work that will be done may not be visible right away, as the remaining demolition needs to be done, infrastructure has to be checked and clean-up of the property must occur. But he said he knows this is the “start of something big.”
“Every business on Main Street, people in town, are all going to have a confidence level you’ve not seen before,” he said. “It won’t happen overnight but it shows the commitment of a bank, developers and the township toward the downtown revitalization. We all have major confidence in the success of this project.”
Recent posts on Facebook have reflected that enthusiasm, such as one by Lois Reichert, who posted on March 16, “Currently 14 guys working there. I spoke to the foreman. Happy Dance.”
That post was followed by others from residents who were talking about the benefit of the development to the neighborhood and available retail space nearby to start considering.
The Downtown West Orange Alliance is already addressing the business opportunities by hosting a commercial realtor open house in May to showcase available retail space in the downtown area.
Guarino said past issues with back taxes on the property will no longer be an issue now that the bank is involved.
“Taxes are now paid by the bank in escrow account, so the taxes will automatically be paid on time, not late as had been in the past,” he said, but he also noted, “West Orange actually made $400,000 in late fees” on the past overdue taxes.
Also, five years ago, the township offered to bond $6.2 million dollars for the project. Guarino said no bonds have been issued on that, and may never be required. But he emphasized that if the money is used by the developer, “We are not giving them the money, we are loaning it to them, and they have agreed to pay back $3.1 million, and the township puts up $3.1 million.”
He explained that for projects like this, every town has responsibilities to put up infrastructure money to cover lighting, sewers, water, etc. While sometimes done by the municipality, developers can often do it cheaper.
Misinformation still abounds, according to Guarino, especially about the project possibly paying no taxes for years. He stated, “The current developer will be paying current taxes on the property.” He also clarified that “the current tax rate is assessed to the property, while construction is going on.”
After that, a PILOT tax abatement program will be used once the project is completed. Guarino said it can be thought of less as a tax and more as a municipal fee that is paid to the town. Abatements as defined by the state of New Jersey can be used to help areas in need of redevelopment.
He said this is very different from projects that are going up in other areas such as South Orange. “They will not see tax payments from those properties for up to 25 years,” said Guarino.
Guarino said he remains enthusiastic about the project and what it means to West Orange.
“When people see construction starting, the confidence level that this project brings will be huge,” he said.