March 20, 2023

Square Feet: Harrison, N.J., Pins Its Hopes on Housing Commuters

A flurry of development is under way in this 1.2-mile-long town along the Passaic River, across from Newark. A 275-unit upscale apartment building was fully leased within seven months of its 2011 opening. On the heels of that success, other developers have broken ground on residential, retail and commercial projects in a redevelopment zone that circles the town’s New Jersey PATH station.

Nine developers have pledged $650 million over 10 years to transform 275 acres of abandoned, deteriorating manufacturing buildings into the next outpost on New Jersey’s Gold Coast. In all, a third of Harrison will be rebuilt, adding 3,000 units of housing to a town with 14,500 residents. When the work is finished, a community that was once a bustling manufacturing hub will depend on commuters looking for affordable, chic housing.

“What alternative do we have? It’s going to create jobs, I hope,” said the town’s mayor, Raymond McDonough, a retired plumber who has been mayor for nearly 18 years. “It’s going to create tax revenue for the town.” The amount of taxes the town can collect, however, will be limited by a 30-year tax abatement granted to the developers.

In the most critical improvement for the area, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey will begin work this year on a $256 million upgrade of the town’s 76-year-old PATH station. Developers are pinning their hopes for the area on the PATH train, which provides a 25-minute ride to Manhattan.

Developers hope that the virtually unknown Harrison — unlike nearby Newark, which has struggled to shake its downtrodden image — can draw commuters priced out of the trendy Hoboken and Jersey City markets.

Damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, of course, may lead to construction delays at the station and at other projects in the area.

More than two million passengers used Harrison Station in 2011. By 2022, the agency expects ridership to rise to 3.4 million. The station upgrade will expand the station platform to allow for trains with more cars.

“The jewel here is the train station. That’s your raw material,” said Jeffrey J. Milanaik, president of Heller Industrial Parks, which is demolishing several turn-of-the-century factories on a 10-acre parcel near Frank E. Rodgers Boulevard. Early next year, Heller will begin work on 95 rental units and 15,000 square feet of retail, the first phase of a $200 million plan to build 747 units of housing.

Other new developments are also under way: Advance Realty broke ground in September on a 50,000-square-foot research and technology center for Panasonic; Advance is also building, with Russo Development, a 326-unit rental property with 1,000 square feet of retail; Millennium Homes and the Roseland Property Company will break ground next month on 140 rental units on First Street; and work will begin this fall on a 138-room Element hotel.

Rents are lower in Harrison than in other towns along the PATH line. The average rent for an apartment in the new development is $1,863 a month, compared with $2,900 in Hoboken or $3,067 in Jersey City, according to data provided by Brian J. Whitmer, a senior director at Cushman and Wakefield.

“Harrison is the next step out,” Mr. Whitmer said. “If you can’t afford $3,000 a month to live in Hoboken, but you want new construction and entertainment, you can come to Harrison.”

For now, amenities are sparse. The new rental building, Harrison Station at 300 Somerset Street, has 12,800 square feet of retail, but only two spaces are filled, with a Five Guys Burger and Fries and a deli that sells some groceries. Pro Cuts, GNC, a dry cleaner and a Japanese restaurant are expected to open in the next few months.

“Harrison is really like new build,” said David Barry, president of Ironstate Development Company, which built 300 Somerset Street with the Pegasus Group. “We’re creating a neighborhood from whole cloth and trying to give it a sense of place.”

By the end of the year, the team will break ground on the Element hotel, an extended-stay hotel that will charge visitors about $150 a night. The seven-story hotel will sit across the street from 300 Somerset, wrapping around a 1,440-car garage the team built in 2010. The Hudson County Improvement Authority operates the garage and Harrison receives the revenue from it. Eventually, Ironstate and Pegasus plan to build five more apartment buildings with about 2,000 units and 67,000 square feet of retail.

Mr. McDonough hatched the redevelopment plan in 1998, and it has been plagued by setbacks ever since. The Sept. 11 attacks delayed the project. But by 2006, a 170-room Hampton Inn had opened along the river. And in 2007, the first condo development opened: River Park at Harrison, an 86-unit riverfront complex built by Roseland and Millennium. But by the time the second phase opened in 2008, the economy had collapsed and the developers struggled to sell units. Their problems were worsened by a neighboring property: a chemical plant that turned off buyers.

Even the successes had problems. After the $200 million Red Bull Arena — home of the New York Red Bulls, the major league soccer team — opened in the redevelopment zone in 2010, the town was mired in a tax dispute with the arena’s owners. Without the revenue stream, the town could not make bond payments on the $39 million it had borrowed to buy the land for the 2,500-seat arena. In 2011, Moody’s Investment Services downgraded Harrison’s credit rating to junk.

“The stadium has seriously endangered Harrison’s ability to maintain its governmental functions with the debt load that it’s now carrying,” said Gordon MacInnes, president of New Jersey Policy Perspective, a government watchdog group.

The courts ruled in Harrison’s favor in January and in July the arena’s owners paid $5.6 million in back taxes. During the dispute, the town raised property taxes and cut municipal jobs. In August, Moody’s revised the town’s credit outlook to positive.

Red Bull declined to comment on the tax dispute, citing the continuing legal case. The owners could still appeal.

“It didn’t work out the way we planned, but we’re getting there,” said Mr. McDonough.

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Acts of Mild Subversion: How to Beat High Airfares

Well, there’s a way to save some of that money. It’s called “hidden-city ticketing,” but before I explain how to execute the maneuver, you’re going to need some background. Passengers flying to or from airports that are dominated by a single carrier — like Memphis, Newark or Dallas/Fort Worth — pay fares 20 or 30 percent higher than at non-hub airports. The prices are even more inflated when you’re flying from a smaller city with a limited number of flights. A nonstop one-way ticket from Des Moines to Dallas/Fort Worth is $375 on American Airlines, for example — more than the $335 Delta will charge you to fly from Miami to Anchorage.

But what happens when you’re interested in flying American from Des Moines to Los Angeles, which hosts a more competitive airport? That flight is only about half the price ($186), despite its being more than double the distance. Now, here’s the trick: American flights from Des Moines to L.A. have a layover in Dallas. If you want to travel to Dallas, the best way to get a reasonable fare is to book the flight to Los Angeles instead, and simply get off the plane at Dallas.

Making a habit of this certainly won’t endear you to the airlines. Most of them — the major exception being free-spirited Southwest Airlines — expressly forbid it in their ticketing rules. But those rules don’t carry the force of law, and most travel lawyers say that their recourse is limited. They could probably preclude you from flying with them in the future, but their case for demanding penalties is weak, and the risk of detection is low if you don’t book these kinds of routes more often than a couple of times per carrier per year. Just remember these tips for successfully executing the phantom flight trick:

1. Look to employ the switcheroo when your final destination is at a hub airport dominated by just one or two carriers, like Atlanta, Cleveland, Salt Lake City, Charlotte, Detroit, Cincinnati or Chicago O’Hare, all of which have overpriced tickets.

2. When you’re traveling to one of those cities, you should search for phantom flights into airports that are more competitive — New York, Miami, Las Vegas and Boston are good examples. Search engines like will allow you to select your routing through your desired layover airport.

3. Book your itinerary as a set of two one-way flights, rather than as a round trip. If you miss any segment of your itinerary, the airline will usually cancel the rest of it.

4. Don’t check your bags, because they’ll find their way to the final destination listed on your itinerary. And get to your gate early, lest the overhead bins fill up.

5. Don’t lie if you get caught — travel lawyers agree that misstating your intentions could leave you facing fraud charges. Instead, proudly state that you’re doing your part to help the airlines understand the inefficiencies in their pricing structures, and that you’re bringing exorbitant fares more in line with the free market.

All of the fares are based on a search for one-way flights on June 15. In each case, the price reflects the cheapest fare for the day on the carrier listed. The search was conducted on April 20.

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