Plant in New Jersey to Be Converted to Condos, Retail Space

A historic West Orange manufacturing facility built by inventor Thomas Edison is expected soon to undergo a dramatic transformation into condominium housing, retail space, a courtyard mews and a five-level parking deck.

Redevelopment plans for the Edison Storage Battery Factory complex in the township's downtown should be ready for the West Orange Planning Board's review in August, developer Eugene Diaz said Wednesday night.

It's part of the first phase of a $250 million private investment effort to aimed at sprucing up the immediate area around Main Street and Lakeside Avenue, beginning with converting the 1913-built factory into 310 market-rate condominium residences, building 18,360 square feet of new retail space, and creating a courtyard.

"Things are moving along, just as scheduled," said Diaz, a principal with Prism Green Associates IV, a Delaware LLC affiliated with the Prism Capital Partners real estate development and investment firm in Englewood. "A site plan application hopefully will be arranged (with a special West Orange Planning Board meeting) in August."

If preliminary site plan approval is given at that time, "we'd like to start some selective demolition at the site in late September or early October, with full-scale construction commencing (after) Jan. 1," Diaz said in the aftermath of a special planning board meeting held in the West Orange Municipal Court Wednesday night.

The project, expected to be completed by the fall of 2009, features one-bedroom units ranging from 840 square feet to 1,191 square feet; two bedrooms, from 1,260 to 1,722 square feet; three bedrooms, from 1,800 to 2,100 square feet; and penthouses, from 1,700 to 1,900 square feet.

Wednesday evening's informational session dealt with Prism officials and consultants giving the planning board and the public a courtesy update on the redevelopment project, explaining what officials might expect when a site plan application is submitted two months from now, and detailing what efforts are being taken to preserve the historic character of the factory buildings.

A small four-story factory building in the middle of the 4.45-acre site will be demolished, the remaining five-, six- and seven-story battery factory structures will be gutted and turned into mostly one- and two-bedroom upscale residences with a concierge service, and 29 duplex penthouses will be constructed atop some of the existing buildings on the Lakeside Avenue side of the site, Thomas Barton III, a consultant to the developer, told the planning board.

Barton, an architect with the Barton Partners firm in Norristown, Pa., said a prefabricated parking deck will be able to accommodate 625 motor vehicles and 11 new three-story, three-bedroom townhouses will be constructed on Charles Street.

The target market for the new housing - for which prices have not been projected - will be young professionals and empty nesters, officials said.

All the planned residential structures, they noted, will comply with the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating system, a nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high-performance structures.

The site's parking deck, accessible only on Charles Street, a thoroughfare one level below the grade of Main Street, will have a roll-up security gate that comes down at 10 p.m., but condo owners can access the parking facility after hours with an electronic entry card, Barton said.

Off Charles and Main Streets, ground-level retail establishments will be built, with two stories of residential condominium units built atop them.

To maintain the original look of the concrete and steel buildings, 800 domestic aluminum awning-type replacement windows likely will be used in the existing factory buildings, Samuel Y. Harris, Prism's historical consultant, told the planning board.

All damaged concrete also will be repaired, and to reverse the shabby, patched look of the entire factory site's concrete exterior, a buff-colored stain will be tested, for possible use, to make the place look more aesthetically pleasing, said Harris, of the S. Harris and Co. firm in Philadelphia.

After all the repairing and refinishing is completed, the place should "look more uniform in its color and texture, that it did originally," Harris predicted.

The nearly century-old battery factory complex - formally known as the Thomas Edison Invention Factory and Commerce Center - is across the street from the Edison National Historic Site and museum operated by the U.S. Park Service.

Edison employees used to manufacture storage batteries once used in light delivery vehicles, automobiles, railroad signals, industrial applications and mining equipment. Battery manufacturing operations ceased there in 1965.

The factory has no current affiliation with the historic site and museum.