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Will Union City be the next hot spot?

Byline: John Celock

With almost every inch in Hoboken accounted for by new development, and prices rising in both Hoboken and Jersey City, developers and residents have been looking north in Hudson County for the next hot spot.

Union City, a densely populated community located on a bluff above the Lincoln Tunnel, has been attracting new development as the Hudson County boom spreads. Several hundred new units have been constructed or are planned for the community, which started seeing its first signs of new development in 2000.

The Park Hudson Group is working on a six-building complex, with 400 planned units, on the Union City-Weehawken line. The developer opened the project's first building, the Park City, a 30-unit structure, in 2005, when it was just half-complete. The project's Park City Grand, a 70-unit complex, opened earlier this year and is almost sold out. Hudson View, which sits next to the Park City Grand, will have 64 units and is scheduled to open in February.

Michael Cherit, marketing director for the Park Hudson Group, said the developer started looking at Union City after building four buildings in Hoboken earlier this decade. He said the developer began to look north as Hoboken prices began to rise.

Union City, which is two miles from Midtown Manhattan, offered close proximity along with cheaper prices for land, which translated into cheaper unit offerings.

"It's like a sixth borough," Cherit said, "You can get a real two-bedroom, two-bathroom here."

Union City prices are currently some 35 percent to 40 percent lower than Hoboken. Hoboken prices have been running between $450 a foot to $550 a foot for a one-bedroom, while Union City prices start at $300 a foot. The prices in downtown Jersey City, which have traditionally been lower than those of Hoboken, have been jumping as more high-rises are developed along the waterfront.

Cherit said the Park Hudson projects have proven popular with buyers, who have begun to look in Union City in recent years. He noted the developer has worked to make the projects similar in style to what can be found in Hoboken and Jersey City, which has been of interest to buyers looking to cross the Hudson from Manhattan.

"It's mainly been people who have been priced out of New York," Cherit said of the buyers. "It's someone who works in New York, or who lives in New Jersey and wants to be closer in."

One of the most densely populated communities in the country, Union City has been known for over four decades as the home to the New Jersey Cuban community. (It is the hometown of U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, [D-New Jersey], a former mayor.) Prior to this decade, Union City had only one building targeting the yuppie population, a tower sitting above the Lincoln Tunnel with panoramic Manhattan views.

According to Union City Planner Dave Spatz, the city has created several redevelopment zones in order to spur development. In addition, the extension of the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail to Union City last year helped bring more people up to the cliff town. The light rail connects Hudson County from Bayonne to North Bergen, and provides quick access to the Hoboken PATH Station. In addition, ferry service from neighboring Weehawken and a seven-minute bus trip via the Lincoln Tunnel have been used as selling points.

"As Hoboken built out, and the waterfront in West New York and Weehawken has filled up, we have become the next thing," Spatz said.

Spatz pointed to the Swisstown redevelopment zone, which will bring a new 12-story, 151-unit building to Union City, to open next year. Unlike Jersey City, which has targeted the construction of waterfront high-rises, including buildings which will be among New Jersey's largest, Union City development plans run more along the lines of Hoboken and the rest of northern Hudson County, with smaller-scale buildings.

Spatz said much of the development has been centered on four- and five-story buildings, along with luxury rehabs of smaller buildings containing no more than four units. Buildings taller than 10 stories are rare in Union City.

As the city has redeveloped, the downtown business strip has changed, with more upscale cafes and stores coming in to cater to the new population.

Francesco Mazzaferro, a sales agent with Coldwell Banker in Hoboken, said he has seen more clients beginning to look at Union City because of the views and lower prices. "It's the same buyer as Hoboken," Mazzaferro said. "They feel they will get more value there. At the end of the day, in Hoboken prices are higher. By traveling five minutes, then you can buy a much bigger place."

Mazzaferro pointed to several smaller projects as catching on with the buyers he is working with. He noted that the Park West, being developed by Raffi Arfanian, is a 14-unit building that is almost sold out, and Central Plaza, a 12-unit building developed by Nelson Lopez, has sold all but one unit since opening earlier this year. This year, Arfanian will start sales on the Ardan House, another 12-unit condo building in Union City.

With the expansion of Union City continuing as vacant lots remain, along with former industrial sites the city government has targeted for redevelopment, experts remain excited about the potential scope of the boom. In addition, they note that Union City is beginning to take on more similarities to its more expensive neighbor.

"It looks a lot like Hoboken," Cherit said.
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Title Annotation:New Jersey; Park Hudson Group
Author:Celock, John
Publication:The Real Deal
Geographic Code:1U2NJ
Date:Jan 2, 2008
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