August 12, 2015

Mixed Use Development in Trenton Could Be a “Game Changer” for City

Roebling Trenton

The Roebling Lofts project targeted for a cluster of former industrial buildings along Route 129 in Trenton has been through years of planning and the administrations of three mayors. Those attending a breakfast gathering of the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce last week learned that government funding for the mixed-use development is now in place. The complex predicted by current mayor Eric Jackson to be “a potential game-changer” for the capital city is finally about to break ground. 

HHG Development Associates detailed plans for putting rental lofts, restaurants, offices, and an outdoor piazza into the area that once housed part of the John A. Roebling’s Sons company, a major employer in Trenton’s Chambersburg section from the 1850s to the 1970s.

Calling the project “very advanced” in financing, partner Michael Goldstein said the first phase of development will be 138 residential lofts in a building that is one of six on the site. The complex has its own stop on the River Line and easy access to the Trenton Transit Station. The one-bedroom lofts will be energy-efficient with a green roof, solar panels, LED lighting, and induction ranges. Windows will be wall-to-wall and ceilings will be high in the apartments, which are targeted to rent for $1,300 at market rate. Twenty-eight moderate income units will rent for $1,150.

Young singles and couples are projected to make up more than 90 percent of the tenants. “Authentic, diverse, walkable communities are what millenials are looking for, and that’s what Chambersburg is,” Mr. Goldstein said. He added that while Chambersburg had previously experienced a population decline, an influx of Latinos has begun to reverse the trend.

“If I were to say this project had to turn Trenton around all by itself, I might be skeptical,” he said. “But it doesn’t have to. What it’s doing is taking a city that has already turned a corner and is now broadening, accelerating, and morphing that change. We’re also looking at outlying sites owned by the city, the county, and the state. There is potential to make this a massive development.”

Partner John Hatch pointed out some recent real estate activity in Trenton, including the new building for Thomas Edison State College’s School of Nursing, and renovations and new construction for Mercer County Community College’s downtown campus. Research shows that economic growth is taking place in cities, rather than outlying areas, he added. “If there is going to be continued growth in this region, it is going to be focused in Trenton and that’s incredibly exciting,” he said.

HHG partner David Henderson said the second phase of the project would include 52 additional lofts, a restaurant, and retail space in a second building, plus a new building. The final phase would center around two existing structures and a new tower, accommodating between 100,000 and 200,000 feet of commercial space, restaurant space, and a parking garage. Offices will be open and preserve the character of the former factories in which they are housed.

“Team-oriented open space is what they’re looking for,” he said. “These buildings already have that, with tons of natural light.”

The ground-floor retail and restaurant space would be designed to open onto a public piazza that the developers envision as a site for numerous cultural events. “We’ve already seen the draws for Art All Night and the Trenton Punk Rock Flea Market,” Mr. Henderson said. “Imagine a place where practically every weekend, there is something happening.”

Funding for the project is from several sources including the multi-family Economic Redevelopment & Growth and GrowNJ programs, as well as historic tax credits. A recent award of $16.1 million in tax credits, which the developers were pursuing for a decade, has helped get Block 3 off the ground.

“It will be a place to be as well as a place to live and a place to work,” Mr. Henderson said. Construction is targeted to begin on Phase One this fall.