The Story of Port Imperial, a Gem on New Jersey’s Gold Coast

CallisonRTKL’s Keith Campbell takes us behind the scenes of one of the nation’s largest urban master-planned developments.

Built on the west side of the Hudson River, directly across from midtown Manhattan, Port Imperial is a 200-acre neighborhood reshaping the waterfront. Roseland Residential Trust, a subsidiary of Mack-Cali Realty Corp., is the master developer behind the $3 billion mixed-use destination, which will soon conclude its second decade of planning and development. Buoyed by considerable improvements in public transit, the former industrial brownfield land is slowly turning into a transit-oriented community serving New Yorkers who “want to branch out from life in Manhattan without straying too far from the island.”  

Since 2003, CallisonRTKL has been designing architectural solutions for various blocks and buildings at Port Imperial, including the upcoming Capstone, a 360-unit luxury community that is set to open in early 2021. CallisonRTKL Vice President Keith Campbell reveals how the concept behind what was originally envisioned as the “Venice on the Hudson” evolved over the years. 

What was your initial vision for Port Imperial and how has it changed? 

Campbell: Our initial vision was to contribute to a brownfield waterfront redevelopment in ways that reflect a respect for the history of the site, energize the riverwalk and encourage commercial activity as well as residential uses. These are goals that have remained constant at Port Imperial and are hallmarks of great urban design. Roseland had enormous foresight in unlocking the value of an environmentally challenged piece of real estate.

Keith Campbell, Vice President, CallisonRTKL. Image courtesy of CallisonRTKL

Housing, transportation and amenity preferences have changed dramatically in the past two decades. Port Imperial was an unproven housing market in the late 1990s when initial approvals were granted for development and the initial building types were built in suburban-style townhomes and apartment buildings.

As the rental and condominium market matured and demographic shifts occurred in the housing market over time, higher density buildings with smaller unit sizes reflective of urban trends emerged for the diversified pool of buyers and renters in Port Imperial, including young professionals and empty-nesters looking for housing options closer to New York City. As Port Imperial’s population continues to grow and evolve, the amenity offerings have responded in kind to meet their needs. There are now many more retail and restaurant options in addition to two new hotels in Port Imperial.

What makes the Port Imperial master development unique?

Campbell: The uniqueness of Port Imperial is entirely due to the absolutely unparalleled and unobstructed views of Manhattan that it enjoys. The prioritization of views of the city is the design driver that is consistent in the buildings that we have designed, and for the streets and block sizes that allow views of the city. Secondarily, but not to be ignored, is the robust multimodal transit system that serves Port Imperial, which adds immense value to the site. How wonderful it is to be able to take a short walk to the ferry and in 10 minutes be at 39th Street!

RiversEdge at Port Imperial. Image courtesy of CallisonRTKL

The area also offers access to several other modes of mass transportation including the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail, with access along New Jersey’s Gold Coast to Hoboken and Jersey City, as well as ferry service to the West Side and Lower Manhattan. Commuters that live at Port Imperial have many options besides automobiles, and we are proud to be part of taking cars off the streets.

Beyond the geographic advantages that come with proximity to the country’s largest central business district, Port Imperial offers a broad spectrum of housing types, from condominium and rental apartment buildings to large townhomes.

There were extraordinary public-private partnerships that made Port Imperial possible. Spanning two municipalities, West New York and Weehawken, Port Imperial is technically two master-planned developments that work together practically and seamlessly as one.

How difficult has it been to transform a former industrial brownfield land into a mixed-use community?

Campbell: Mixed-use takes time. Rarely does a site with the sheer size and length of Port Imperial get developed overnight. The physical challenges of remediation sometimes added time to the construction schedules of various buildings.

Are there any features embodied in the design of the Port Imperial buildings that seem prescient in the era of COVID-19?

RiverParc at Port Imperial. Image courtesy of CallisonRTKL

Campbell: Way before it was fashionable, we designed extensive and sometimes multilevel amenity terraces for all of our buildings in Port Imperial. They all provide extremely generous outdoor space for residents and elevated views of Manhattan, so all residents, including those with units facing west, can enjoy the spectacular city skyline. In 2003, that was not common and, of course, none of us could have predicted the importance of outdoor spaces in this pandemic year. In 2021, when Capstone opens, residents will be able to enjoy an even more luxurious and multifunctional amenity terrace.

Please share some details about outdoor spaces and amenities at Port Imperial.

Campbell: A waterfront esplanade with connected public parks and playgrounds is a hallmark of the public improvements that all residents in Port Imperial enjoy. The demand for outdoor living space reflected in the market is seen in rent premiums for residential units with balconies or terraces.  

The buildings that CallisonRTKL designed for Roseland at Port Imperial offer large outdoor amenity decks with swimming pools, spas, barbeque grills, zones for lawn and parlor games, outdoor fitness and dog runs and play areas for children. These spaces were designed to best take advantage of the great views and also provide the amenities people are most looking for in new development.

What is attracting New Yorkers to Port Imperial nowadays? 

RiversEdge at Port Imperial exterior. Image courtesy of CallisonRTKL

Campbell: Many New Yorkers are now seeking out larger living spaces and easy access to spaces such as outdoor amenities and the waterfront esplanade. With the appeal of such uncommon outdoor attractions, Port Imperial’s popularity has only increased. That trend is anticipated to continue, as the quick ferry service and the easy commute are appealing to New Yorkers who want to branch out from life in Manhattan without straying too far from the island.

New Yorkers are also drawn to Port Imperial’s growing dining scene and wide amenity offerings. This year has brought many new culinary announcements. The neighborhood has added big-time names, including Chef Marcus Samuelsson’s NoHu Rooftop and Chef David Burke’s culinary involvement at Son Cubano. CallisonRTKL is collaborating with chefs Chris Lim and Tara Glick on a new restaurant that brings out their love for food and gathering.

What’s next for Port Imperial? How will this area look five or 10 years from now?

RiverParc at Port Imperial. Image courtesy of CallisonRTKL

Campbell: The landscaping has already grown in beautifully and will continue to add character and charm as Port Imperial matures. Likewise, as density increases, food and beverage options will increase, leading to increased foot traffic on sidewalks, public spaces and the riverwalk.

There are a handful of development sites remaining in Port Imperial with a total development value of well over $1 billion. We anticipate a continuing mix of housing types reflective of the historically proven rental and condominium market. Port Imperial’s direct link via ferry service to the West Side of Manhattan is expected to bolster the market and regional locational advantages as more employers begin to occupy the office space in Hudson Yards and new development expands around the 39th Street ferry terminal in Manhattan. 

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