Original Article

WEST ORANGE, NJ — The $6.3 million in municipal bonds issued by the township have still not been used by redeveloper Prism Capital Partners for Phase 1 of its Edison Village project, though that may soon change.

According to township business administrator Jack Sayers, the township recently instructed Prism officials to submit invoices for any work that would qualify for the bonds. The redevelopment agreement states that qualifying work includes infrastructure improvements such as upgrades to utilities, roadways, pathways, sidewalks and public rights of way. The agreement also says the bonds will cover any environmental remediation and parking improvements, which Sayers said would include the parking garage.

Once the invoices are submitted, Sayers told the West Orange Chronicle that township CFO John Gross will verify that all work documented is entitled to reimbursement before the bonds are released. Sayers said Prism had not given the township any invoices for reimbursement as of press time Jan. 31.

Eugene Diaz, principal partner of Prism, did not respond to request for comment before press time.

Meanwhile, work on Edison Village continues to progress. West Orange Historic Preservation Commission Vice Chairman Martin Feitlowitz said the commission approved the facade plans for the residential-over-retail building, which had come under scrutiny last year after Feitlowitz noticed Prism had made some alterations to the plans without alerting the HPC. After meeting a few times with Prism and township officials, Feitlowitz said all parties were able to agree on a facade design that closely resembled the drawings for which the commission had originally issued a Certificate of Appropriateness. Most importantly, he said the redeveloper committed to constructing a facade made from hard stucco, which he called more acceptable than the fieldstone Prism wished to use.

“The HPC is happy with it now,” Feitlowitz told the Chronicle in a Jan. 30 phone interview. “I’m very proud that the Historic Preservation Commission was able to come forward and get everything clarified. And we should expect that the finished product will be very similar to the rendering.”

The approved design is not exactly the same as the one the HPC first granted its certificate for, though. Feitlowitz said awnings were eliminated, a decision the HPC agreed to after both Prism and the township administration expressed a desire to remove them. Additionally, he said the commission rejected a curved roofline at the top of the building, insisting on a flat roofline instead.

Some of the changes that arose from the discussions between the HPC, Prism and the township actually made the plans better than ever, Feitlowitz said. Most notably, he said the storefronts now have a simplified, more uniform appearance that works well for the residential-over-retail building.

“It looks much cleaner, much better architecturally,” Feitlowitz said.

Though it has given its approval, the HPC is not entirely removed from the building process. Feitlowitz said Prism has promised to show the commission a mock-up of the facade that the HPC can vet before it is constructed. That will probably happen within the next two months, he said, since Prism must first install the steel frames and build the floors for the building.

Once the commission approved the building plans, township building inspector Tom Tracey said he was able to issue the majority of building, plumbing, electrical and fire permits for the residential-over-retail building. Tracey said he has issued the bulk of the permits for the Battery Building and parking garage as well. But for a redevelopment as large as Edison Village, he said there are bound to be some additional permits required for upgrades either forgotten about or unforeseen. For instance, he said Prism might realize that it needs to update an alarm system as the project progresses.

With most of the permits issued, Tracey said work and inspections are under way on all three structures involved with Phase 1. For the Battery Building, he said interior structural footing repairs, slab work, underground plumbing and underground electrical services have already started. The parking garage is erected, he said, with workers now starting on electrical, fire and plumbing work for its interior. He added that footings have been completed for the residential-over-retail building, and the steel is now going up.

Even with that all of that progress, Tracey said Edison Village still has a long way to go. For instance, he said the interior fit-outs still have to be done for the residential–over-retail building. Likewise, he said there is a lot of framing and interior fit-out work for the Battery Building.

Still, Tracey said he has no problems with the way things are going.

“We have a good rapport with (Prism),” Tracey told the Chronicle in a Jan. 30 phone interview. “Things are going smoothly so far.”

As for the future of the project, Sayers said the township has had some preliminary discussions with Prism regarding phases 2 and 3. But he said no dates have been set for when those later phases — which will include the Babcock Place and Barton Press properties — will start. He said Prism would like to finish at least most of Phase 1 before moving on, though he said the redeveloper would be willing to begin if the first phase were progressing on time.