Original Article

At one point, the plans for restoring and converting the historic Thomas Edison factory complex in West Orange called for hundreds of spacious, well-appointed luxury condominiums.

That all changed after the economic meltdown, but Ed Cohen believes those who are instead renting at the property will still reap the benefits of the original vision for the project.

“These units were designed to be for-sale units, and we didn’t compromise in the finishes when we turned it into an apartment complex,” said Cohen, principal partner with Prism Capital Partners. “So our finishes are higher-end than almost anything in the marketplace.”

Known as Edison Village, the long-awaited project is nearing completion and already welcoming residents to its first phase: a new three-story, 34-unit building known as Edison Mews. In the coming months, Prism expects to deliver another 300 apartments when it completes its renovation and reconstruction of the 100-year-old factory complex on Main Street.

At that time, the Bloomfield-based firm will also deliver the long list of amenities that will be available to renters throughout the property. Cohen said those offerings are “as good as it gets from any multifamily development in the state of New Jersey,” with everything from an indoor pool and a large fitness center to a versatile sky lounge with views of Manhattan.

Monthly rents start at $2,100. Prism expects to attract renters of all age groups, especially given its experience at the high-profile Parkway Lofts project in Bloomfield, which also called for converting a historic industrial complex to a residential building.

“This time we’re not surprised by it,” Cohen said, referring to the mix of demographics within the renter pool. “These are not being built to a specific age group. It’s being built to what multifamily occupants are looking for in the way of their new lifestyle.”

Edison Village is more than a decade in the making, having encountered delays such as the Great Recession and litigation from local residents who opposed using township-issued bonds for infrastructure improvements. But Prism has stuck with what it describes as the largest non-waterfront adaptive reuse project in New Jersey, which encompasses 21 acres in the heart of downtown West Orange.

Along with its residential units, the project includes 18,000 square feet of retail space within the Edison Mews building and a 630-space parking structure that has since been completed. The property will offer market-rate apartment layouts from studios to three-bedroom units, ranging from 590 to 1,500 square feet, along with 20 duplex penthouses.

The remaining 300 units will be known as Edison Lofts. Prism said the design, by Minno & Wasko Architects and Planners, takes advantage of existing architectural features of the historic factory to incorporate 14- to 16-foot ceiling heights and 10-foot replica replacement windows that will let in abundant natural light.

As of late May, the 34-unit Edison Mews component was about 40 percent leased.

The retail component, sitting on the corner of Charles Street and along Main Street, is expected to include restaurants and café-style concepts. But Cohen said it was important for Prism to be deliberate in filling that space, while keeping the residential portion in mind.

“This is the cart following the horse,” he said. “The main emphasis is on leasing the apartments and having the retail cater to the population that’s going to be living within the complex.”

The project will bring new life to the Thomas Edison-built complex, which was a production site for storage batteries for light delivery vehicles, automobiles, railroad signals, industrial applications and mining equipment. Those operations ceased in 1965.

Following Prism’s success of Parkway Lofts, the 365-unit conversion project in Bloomfield, Cohen said there are always lessons to be learned when undertaking a similar development. But he also noted that “you can never be fully aware of what you’re going to be encountering” as you start construction at a historic building.

But having a talented, in-house construction team has gone a long way toward navigating those challenges without compromising the development process.

“We have very experienced people,” Cohen said, “and when we do encounter certain things, we’re able to act on it in ways that don’t necessarily increase the cost of the project.”

Prism secured full approvals last fall for the project’s second phase, which will add 230 for-sale townhouses. During construction of that phase, the township’s public works building will be relocated.

The firm also will extend Standish Avenue through the townhome site in order to improve traffic flow for the surrounding community, according to a news release. Infrastructure improvements will include new roads, sidewalks, street lighting and landscaping.