Former Esperanza site rising again in Asbury Park

By: Austin Bogues - app.com

ASBURY PARK – Just within grasp of the clouds, a crane juts up into the sky near the waterfront. At the base of the 287-foot structure is the beginning of a new high-rise building. To many in this city of revival, the crane and accompanying activity help erase a grim reminder of Asbury’s darker days.

In recent weeks, iStar, a real estate investment firm, has begun major construction of the long-awaited 1101 Ocean Ave. project, a mixed-use,16-story structure on the site of the ill-fated Esperanza condominium project. It will include luxury apartments, a boutique hotel and 23,000 square feet of retail space.

iStar is the city’s master developer for its waterfront. The mixed-use development is expected to be completed in 2019. The development will include 130 residential units, and the hotel will have 54 rooms.

During the Asbury Park Oyster Festival earlier this month, the crane was illuminated, not a common practice in construction.

“We lit the crane to draw attention to the ongoing change that is happening throughout the city of Asbury Park,” said Brian Cheripka, senior vice president of land and development for iStar. “Also, it symbolizes our commitment to the community and dedication to successfully redevelop the former Esperanza site. We are proud to be a part of the city’s ongoing renaissance.” To get a glimpse on how the city has experienced a rebirth, view the video above this story on the Changing Face of Asbury Park.

The project will help supplant some bad redevelopment memories for Asbury. The site of the new construction has been targeted unsuccessfully for development for nearly 30 years.

In 1989, developer Joseph Carabetta started constructing the “C-8,” a luxury condominium at the site. He abandoned the project after losing a $41 million funding commitment. Carabetta filed for bankruptcy in 1992.

In 2006, Hoboken-based developer Metro Homes imploded the 12-story skeleton C-8 structure and began building a 224-unit condominium complex that was planned to be called the Esperanza. But as the real estate market tanked a year later, amid the dawn of the Great Recession, the company halted construction. Check out the video of the implosion below.

The site sat vacant with exposed rebar and concrete, a monument to inertia for much of the next decade. “It’s been a symbol of failure essentially,” Asbury Park City Historian Werner Baumgartner said. “Now it’s a symbol of rebirth.”

Things have been looking up for Asbury Park since the earlier development failures. The city was recently named the “coolest small town” in America by Budget Travel magazine. More than a million visitors flocked to the city last year, eager to visit its resurgent waterfront and dine at the many new restaurants.

In January, Cheripka told the Press that iStar and its partners planned to invest $1 billion in the city over the next decade, including 20 new residential and commercial developments.

Work at the 1101 Ocean Ave. site began in mid-February, and the crane was erected during the past 60 days.

The high-rise was designed by Anda Andrei and architect Gary Handel. The general contractor for the project is Sordoni Construction, a Bedminster-based firm. iStar declined to give the project’s total cost.

Asbury Park Mayor John Moor said the crane’s arrival at the construction site was a symbolic victory. “I think it’s the watermark for non-believers,” Moor said. “The people who didn’t believe in the city will now become supporters.”

Moor said the building will generate over $2 million in tax revenue for the city annually.

“I think the 1101 Ocean Ave. site has been an eyesore and example of Asbury’s revitalization failing,” said Deputy Mayor Amy Quinn. But she said she would like to see iStar focus more of its development efforts on affordable housing in the city, as rent and housing prices continue to climb.

The median income in Asbury Park is just $32,000 per household, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, less than half the state average. The average home value rose from $74,000 in 2000 to near $260,000 in 2015, according to state tax records.

“While we’re amazed at watching the 1101 project come to fruition, we’d really like iStar to be building for all of Asbury Park, particularly the people who brought (the city) back,” Quinn said.

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