Spurred by sports arena, Harrison redevelopment in full swing

Harrison is just one square mile, sitting in the shadow of Newark to the west and New York to the east. Once an industrial powerhouse and the home of Otis Elevator, Edison Lamp Works, and RCA — it’s now a town in transition.

Like so many U.S. cities, Harrison began to decline in the late 60s. Businesses moved out, and so did the people. But the town is on the rebound and is becoming something of an urban hot spot, as Harrison Mayor James Fife explained.

“Oh I would say yes, we’re in transition. We have the new part and the old part, and we’re trying to get them together,” he said. “We have about 7,000 units of housing, and there’s like a half million square feet of retail, restaurants, things like that are going to be going up in the near future.”

The area has changed quite a bit since President Taft coined it the “Beehive of Industry.” Take for example, the $256 million PATH Station renovation and the Red Bull Arena, which some would argue kick started the renovation in the city.

“After Red Bull came in and put the stadium up, people started coming here, and then the developers starting coming also so they did have a positive effect. If the arena didn’t go up, we don’t know if it would have gone like it did,” Fife said.

The arena was part of a $3.5 billion redevelopment plan to transform about 250 acres around the stadium that actually started in 1997, but stalled when the recession hit. The stadium wasn’t built until 2010. But some developers, like Advance Realty, started building in the early 2000s.

“We saw an opportunity in Harrison. It’s centrally located around some of the best amenities in the world, quite frankly. You have Manhattan that’s 15 minutes away. The Pru Center, NJPAC,” said Dan Cocoziello from Advance Realty. “And the leadership in Harrison really made a commitment to the private side to say, ‘Hey we’re open for business and we want to see change here,’ so that was something that really excited us about making the decision to come to Harrison.”

Advance Realty projects include mixed-use space combining housing, restaurants, bars and retail. They’re one of several developers who’ve taken a similar approach, and it’s working. The population in Harrison has grown from 13,620 in 2010 to 17,640 in 2017 — a 30 percent increase.

“It’s cheap, and it’s affordable and it’s still a nice place to live,” said resident Jay Shah.

“We like the feeling of a small town, and so everybody kind of knows each other. And it’s so convenient, too. Grocery stores are close,” said Joseph Sarmiento.

“It’s an easy commute to New York, so it’s really convenient,” said another resident, Girish Sukhwani.

Commuting into the city is convenient if you’re taking a train, but for those in cars, traffic can be a major issue, and some blame the stadium. The mayor says it’s partly the commuters who park in Harrison and take the PATH into the city.

“There’s traffic. And especially if there’s an accident on 280, all bets are off,” Fife said.

But the mayor says there’s a plan to address it which would help when fans flood the town for Red Bull games.

“We’re working on an interchange for 280 which could move the traffic off of Frank Rodgers Boulevard,” he said.

Traffic aside, the Harrison of yesterday is gone, and those who call it home today are OK with that.