Just yesterday, it was announced that my CBRE colleague, Tom Mallaney, represented the buyer in the purchase of 20 East Halsey Street, a building that has been vacant for 20 years. The flex building is 75,000 square feet and the new owner plans to renovate the building and market it for lease.
Since 20 years is a long time for anything, especially for a building to sit vacant, it was surprising to me that the building isn’t being redeveloped. As I have mentioned before, I think we will see a trend in New Jersey towards adaptive reuses of antiquated buildings, especially office buildings.
However, municipalities throughout New Jersey are slow to provide not only approvals, but also building permits. If we are going to see vacant buildings go from eyesores within our communities to vibrant buildings, towns are going to need to be seen as partners and not adversaries.
Early in my career, I was involved with a property that had been vacant for over 15 years, mainly due to an environmental issue. Once past the environmental issue, the building was sold and the new owner was told he needed to come before the planning board for site plan approval, as if the building didn’t exist! After 18 months of testimony, the planning board voted unanimously against the project. That vote took place in 2002 and was followed by an appeal and litigation. The owner won, but the property has sat vacant since, providing less tax revenue to the town and no income to the owner. A true lose/lose situation.
Towns are also taking longer and longer to issue building permits, sometimes for minor tenant improvements. In 2009, many municipalities cut staff when the economy shifted and construction was near an all-time low. The demand has increased, but the staffing levels haven’t, causing costly delays.
I am sure there are many that can argue the other side, but in my opinion, it’s in the best interest of the New Jersey economy for government to support developers, landlords, and tenants who want to spend money, whether to improve buildings or fit out space. We can’t afford to put these people through long, drawn out processes. They will simply choose to spend their time and money elsewhere.