This Way Up

Cities are experiencing a renaissance as single young professionals,newly weds without children,and empty nester's discover that picket fences,large yards , and McMansions are not to be-all and end-all of luxe living.

montgomery greeneJersey City
The nineteen-story luxury apartment building at the corner of Montgomery and Greene streets is part of a restoration of the city’s neighborhoods. From the outside looking in, this computer-generated view of Montgomery Greene shows how retro and modern can harmonize.

Across the country, erstwhile suburbanites are flocking back to the cities.

For a prime example, look no further than Jersey City. “It’s a dynamic market,” says George Filopoulos, president of Metrovest Equities, a leading developer based in New York City that has restored the Beacon to its original glory.

The Beacon, an Art Deco landmark built between 1926 and 1941, started out as the Jersey City Medical Center, a major hospital for the poor and power base for political boss and former Mayor Frank Hague. This ten-tower complex is New Jersey’s largest example of Art Deco architecture, a distinction that landed it on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

the BeaconJersey City
Once upon a time, it was the Jersey City Medical Center. Restored outside, revamped inside, and renamed, the Beacon boasts five-star amenities throughout. Residents can lounge in the library, take a dip in the indoor pool or bask in the magnificence of the lobbies.

Placement on the National Register  required the Beacon’s developers to restore the facades and lobbies, though the interiors had to be gutted. Filopoulos, who chanced upon the complex on a drive to Jersey City, says he immediately fell in love with the artistic details of the exteriors. “The windows are huge. I could see that the views—even on the lower floors—would be spectacular. It would be a shame to destroy this beauty.”

The restoration is occurring in three stages. The first two 23-story towers will be completed this month, encompassing 315 studios and one- and two-bedroom condominiums. Terrazzo and marble floors have been installed in the lobbies that connect the buildings. ”We already sold 85 percent of those units,” says Filopoulos. “Over 40 percent are coming from New York City. This has to do with price—we are less expensive than Manhattan.” Studios start in the low $300,000. Penthouses sell for $2 million and up. A two-story penthouse at the Beacon recently sold for $2.3 million, a record for Jersey City.

When the second two stages are completed in 2010, the complex will total 1,200 condominium units, a public theater for movies and live performances, a gourmet market, parks, shops, a dog run, a library and business center, screening rooms, a spa, and a museum devoted to the history of the  Jersey City Medical Center.

The largest percentage of tenants are expected to be young single professionals who commute to Manhattan. “If you work on Wall Street, you can be in your office in fifteen minutes,” says Filopoulos. “It takes 22 minutes to get to Midtown by PATH train.” (Residents can commute to Manhattan from Port Liberte and Exchange Place.)

The Beacon is also attracting empty-nesters who want to partake of big city  attractions while sparing themselves the maintenance headaches of homeowning. Young marrieds with toddlers and little children are being enticed by the promise of an on-site preschool, where priority will go to Beacon residents.

Few couples with school-age children have signed on. “It just takes a bit of time,” Filopoulos says. “Parents are concerned about the schools in the area, but the schools are changing for the better. Jersey City is a different place than it was ten years ago. With high-rises come upscale retail stores, arts centers, parks, entertainment venues, restaurants, all the conveniences of city living, and eventually better schools.”

 In the meantime, the Big Apple beckons. “New York City is a focal point of commerce, and young professionals just starting out want to be in or as close to the city as possible,” says Harry Kantor, president and chief executive officer of Wall-based KOR Companies, the developer responsible for the nineteen-story Montgomery Greene condominium in Jersey City. “New York has been a driver and Jersey City has benefited. We have all the services you would find at a good hotel.”

Jersey City is part of the Gold Coast, developer slang for Cliffside Park, Hoboken, Weehawken, Edgewater, and Palisades Park.

“The appeal of high-rise living is the level of amenities and service and the ease of a no-maintenance lifestyle,” says Christopher Winslow, director of marketing at Tarragon Corp., developer of One Hudson Park in Edgewater and Trio in Palisades Park. “Our buyers are seeking a beautiful, well-built home close to work, school, family, and friends. The time they save on house upkeep becomes theirs to enjoy as they choose.”

Details such as high ceilings, glass-enclosed balconies, chef’s kitchens, and fine woodwork bring in buyers. All  the one-bedroom units and many of the two-bedroom units at One Hudson Park have been snapped up. Two-bedroom, 1,104-square-foot unites start in the mid-$600,000s.

Breathtaking views are another selling point. The sixteen-story Aurora in Cliffside Park faces upper Manhattan. “The Aurora is starting out on a cliff, so even the first story will have grand views,” says Mary Boorman, senior vice president of marketing and strategic planning of Chatham-based Pinnacle Companies, Aurora’s developer.

The Aurora’s interiors are designed by Philippe Starck, who became famous when he designed the home of French president François Mitterand in 1982. With a private library for residents of the 131 apartments, a cabana area and pool, among other extras, the Aurora, Boorman says, offers “hotel living with the warmth of a close-knit community.”

Aurora condos feature custom cabinets and faucets, free-standing bathtubs, and stone countertops. Some have dens and family areas off the kitchen, some have fireplaces, and all have floor-to-ceiling windows offering views of New York from the George Washington Bridge to Wall Street. Apartments range in size from 1,800 to 3,300 square feet—more than 60 percent of the apartments are over 3,000 square feet—with prices ranging from just over $1 million to more than $2 million.

All that glitters is not the Gold Coast. The Parkview in Collingswood, near Philadelphia, has 1,025 rental units in four towers surrounding a central plaza. Though only ten stories high, the Parkview is considered a high-rise under local building-code height restrictions.

As you’ve probably heard, Collingswood is hot, not only on account of its Restaurant Row. “From the 1970s up until 1990, Collingswood saw rough times,” says Andrew Schwarz, chief executive officer of Audubon Communities Management, which is overseeing the renovation and renting of the Parkview. “The downtown has gone through a real renaissance. You can see it with the quality of retail shops and homes. New buildings are going up and the schools have greatly improved.”

Parkview tenants include young single commuters and couples without children. Mary and Tom Lawler, who both grew up in Philadelphia, moved to Collingswood because they wanted to live in a quieter community. The newlyweds commute to Center City Philadelphia, where Mary is a teacher and Tom is an accountant.

“It takes fifteen minutes to get to Philadelphia by bus,” says Mary. “There’s a high-speed rail line, too. We like all the conveniences—the outdoor pool, tennis courts, parking, fitness center, business center, and grocery store. We don’t want to spend a lot of time in traffic. Plus, rents are less expensive here than in Philadelphia. When we expand our family, we may move to a house, but that won’t  happen for awhile.”

For now they are enjoying their one-bedroom apartment. One-bedroom rentals start at $885 for 650 square feet; two-bedrooms start at $995 for 1,000 square feet.

A new wrinkle in luxury living is called a condotel, a cross between a condo and a hotel. The 25-story Wildwood Beach Hotel & Resort in Wildwood, to be completed in the winter of 2009, will offer residents all the services of a fine hotel—maid and room service, concierge, fitness center, spa, restaurants, and upscale retail shops. Of the 340 units, 150 are hotel rooms. The other 190 are one-, two-, or three-bedroom condos. They range in price from $700,000 for an 800-square-foot unit  to more than $1 million for a 3,000-square-foot duplex.

“We are only 45 minutes to Atlantic City and an hour and fifteen minutes to Philadelphia,” says Christian Nickerson, chief executive officer of Princeton Junction Development Partners.

Should the weather be inclement, you can still wriggle your toes on the beach, or something approximating it. All year round, in fact. Wildwood Beach’s two indoor pools are both surrounded by swaths of sand.

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