'Lifestyle center' considered for old BASF site in Mount Olive
Posted: Wednesday, July 23, 2014 10:02 am
By PHIL GARBER, MANAGING EDITOR | 0 comments
MOUNT OLIVE TWP. – If Jeff Stadelman closes his eyes, he can see stores, restaurants, professional office, apartments and condominiums replacing the BASF building, once a veritable godsend and now the town’s perennial white elephant.
Stadelman, owner of the Wine Rack in Flanders, is chair of the town’s economic development committee and he has been leading efforts to research the best and most realistic way to develop the BASF property.
The building, once the town’s leading property taxpayer, has been empty since 2004 when the multinational chemical company built a new North American headquarters in Florham Park.
The building and 97 acres tract was sold in 2006 to BPG Properties, a private equity real estate fund in Pennsylvania. But then the recession hit and the demand for office space vanished as the property was foreclosed in 2010 by Wells Fargo which has since been unable to sell it.
Stadelman said he was visiting friends in North Carolina last year when he learned about Birkdale Village, a mixed use community in Huntersville, N.C., also known as a “lifestyle center.”
Birkdale Village has restaurants, stores, cafes, apartments, town homes, and houses. A gym, a movie theater, a supermarket, a golf course, a greenway, an express bus park and ride, and Lake Norman are all within walking distance for the residents of Birkdale Village.
Stadelman said that after seeing Birkdale Village he thought a similar lifestyle center would be ideal at the BASF tract, which is not far from Budd Lake, the state’s largest natural lake. He said he could envision the BASF building replaced by ground floor retail and restaurants, professional offices on a second floor and apartments and condominiums on the third floor.
Stadelman said lifestyle centers appeal to many of today’s younger professionals who want a relatively inexpensive place to live. It also is appealing to corporations that are trying to lure and appeal to such young professionals. Smaller housing also is desirable to senior citizens and retirees who want to downsize. And moving out of larger homes would make the housing available to families who want to live in Mount Olive.
“The new “millenials” want to live simply where they can live, work and play,” Stadelman said. “A lot of people want to stay in town but don’t want to keep their homes.”
Stadelman said redeveloping the property or selling it for office space is unlikely because it is too far west of New York City. He said 30 percent of the office space in northern New Jersey is vacant while 17 percent of the industrial space is empty.
The BASF building is particularly unmarketable because it does not have the extensive light and large windows that are sought by today’s businesses, Stadelman said.
A lifestyle center would provide a customer base to retain the new stores and businesses, Stadelman said. The building is also adjacent to 57 undeveloped acres owned by the township and adjacent to Stephens State Park, another draw to younger residents. It also is not far from the recreated, 17th century Waterloo Village.
“By having this center you not only create business retention but you’re giving a broader form of living and a town center, which is something Mount Olive has never had,” Stadelman said.
Mayor Rob Greenbaum said the idea of a lifestyle center is appealing. And Jim Jones, executive director of the Morris County Economic Development Committee, also told Stadelman that “lifestyle centers are where you want to look.”
At the request of Wells Fargo, the Urban Land Institute studied the BASF property and also concluded that a mixed use would be the most marketable use of the property. A 2006 report by CNN also noted that the proliferation of lifestyle centers in the United States accelerated in the 2000s, with number going from 30 in 2002 to 120 at the end of 2004.
Stadelman said demolishing the building would cost an estimated $2 per square foot for a total cost of about $2 million for the 970,000 square foot building. He said the demolition cost would be outweighed by the extensive infrastructure improvements, including water, sewer, roads and a large parking garage. A new lifestyle center also would compliment a similar project being planned at the Netcong rail station.
Stadelman said he has spoken to several developers and that one is considering the feasibility of building a lifestyle center while a second developer said he would pass the idea on to a section that looks into alternative developments.
The potential for sale of the former BASF headquarters along with 57 acres of adjacent, undeveloped land now owned by the town also got a boost in 2013 when the state changed the planning designation on the land, much to the chagrin of environmental groups and more than 1,000 people who signed a petition objecting to the change.
The State Planning Commission unanimously approved the township‘s request to remove environmental restrictions from a total of 416 acres in the International Trade Center. The new designation means the BASF property is no longer considered as environmentally sensitive and therefore could open it up to significant state tax incentives for a new tenant or purchaser.