Cabanas, CrossFit and a demo kitchen headline new luxury apartment complex

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Cabanas by the pool. A yoga room and CrossFit gym. A display kitchen for cooking demonstrations and classes.

It might sound like a list meant to entice vacationers to an all-inclusive resort. But, Mike Pembroke, the COO of Russo Development, is hoping the unusual amenities at the new Vermella residential complex in Union are part of what will draw high-end renters there.

“Most people think we’re a little nuts for doing what we did, because a lot of apartment communities don’t have amenities to this level, but we’re very focused on retention as well as leasing,” Pembroke told NJ Advance Media.

“So we want people, once they live here, to really become part of the community, part of the experience, and utilize this (clubhouse),” he said, “which is basically a hotel, resort-type amenities that you really wouldn’t find in these types of developments.”

The gaming and entertainment section of the clubhouse at Vermella Union.
Don Pearse

A section of the lounge seating at the clubhouse in Vermella Union.
Don Pearse

Directly across from the main building of Kean University, Vermella Union officially opened Jan. 10, with 415 units. (There are currently 75 signed leases, after a soft opening in October.)

The Shoppes at Vermella, a retail component of the development, includes a Starbucks, Panera Bread, and Chipotle in an area adjacent to the first phase. A CVS will be opening soon, Pembroke said.

It’s a six-minute walk to the Union Train Station, which, along with the college, attracted Pembroke to the town.

“Universities are great to be in proximity to and there’s really nothing like it,” he said. “It’s a very dense market that’s really underserved.”

And while he doesn’t expect a lot of students, Pembroke said the building’s demographics range: young professionals, empty nesters, families, and couples who may have one person who works in New Jersey and the other in New York.

The kitchen and living room of a model unit at Vermella Union.
Don Pearse

A model bedroom in a unit at Vermella Union.
Don Pearse

There are 100 studios, 180 one-bedrooms, 107 two-bedrooms, and 28 three-bedrooms. The studios start at $1,740, the one-bedrooms at $2,250, two-bedrooms at $3,075, and the three-bedrooms at $3,670.

At 25,000-square-feet, the building’s central lobby space—named The Union Club—includes dozens of private co-working nooks, an array of couches and lounges, and a sports simulator tucked away in the back.

There’s a screening room available for residents, along with a separate room that is available to rent out for private parties. The ground floor of amenities leads out to sprawling outdoor space, which includes a kitchen and grilling section, an expansive pool, and dozens of soon-to-be added chairs.

The pool is not currently open, although Pembroke estimates it will be open by April.

“E-pay decking, huge pool, waterfalls, outdoor cabanas,” Pembroke said, listing the outdoor amenities, “so someone could come and invite their friends, and hang out on a Saturday, and spend time here, and not really have to go anywhere.”

A section of the fitness center at Vermella Union. Another section includes dozens of treadmills, ellipticals, and other machines.
Don Pearse

The yoga room at Vermella Union.
Don Pearse

The fully-equipped fitness center on the next floor up includes dozens of machines, free weights, a CrossFit area, and a yoga room. The treadmills face the large windows that overlook the pool and deck area outside.

A demonstration kitchen is next to the fitness center—for cooking classes and instruction nights—and a brightly colored children’s playroom is diagonal to the kitchen. A rooftop deck will be open to residents soon, which offers views overlooking the pool and outdoor area, features a space for screening films, and additional outdoor grills and kitchen space.

Pembroke estimated his company spent more than $12 million on just the indoor and outdoor amenity spaces—”three times more than we’ve ever spent in any other community.”

He declined to say how much the entire project cost.

The movie screening room in the clubhouse at Vermella Union.
Don Pearse

The demonstration kitchen at Vermella Union.
Don Pearse

The project is part of New Jersey’s PILOT program—Payment In Lieu of Taxes—for 30 years. The program allows Russo Development to make an annual PILOT payment to the municipality instead of property taxes.

Don Travisano, the township administrator, said the PILOT payment assumes 10% of gross revenue and since the revenue is a projected number, the developer pays an estimated number until after the first year, when the estimated number becomes a real number, based on an audit.

The first phase of Vermella Union will have an estimated PILOT payment of $565,000. Block A, or the residential part of the development, is projected to have a gross revenue of $4.6 million. Block B, or the retail part, is projected to have a gross revenue of $1.5 million.

But, “the development itself wouldn’t exist without the PILOT,” he said.

Located at the former Merck site, the “development itself is an absolute game changer for that section of Union, as well as Union itself,” Travisano said.

He said the development will further economic development in the township, through jobs—both short-term and long-term—in construction and retail. “I always like to say redevelopment, if done the right way, lifts everything up with it,” he said.

The abundance of amenities—paired with the selected shops and restaurants in close proximity—are the latest example of developers trend toward building mixed-use spaces that allows residents to live, work, dine, and shop, all within one campus.

In Sayreville, a massive $2.5 billion redevelopment project—dubbed “Riverton”—had its first phase approved early December. Developed by North American Properties, the project is set to include retail, restaurants, office space, hotels, parks, a marina, and 2,000 residential units.

In Paramus, the largest mall in the state—Garden State Plaza—announced plans to become a mixed-use town center. Plans call for apartments, offices, fitness centers, and a transit center to be added to vacant department spaces, complete with tree-lined streets and a promenade.

Monmouth Mall in Eaton is also transforming into a mixed-use space, after a plan with 700 apartments, new shops, dining and entertainment, was approved in mid-2018. It will be called The Heights Monmouth.

At full build-out, Vermella Union will include over 1,250 luxury apartments over its 42-acre campus-style community, a press release said. It will be comprised of five residential buildings—constructed in three phases—with completion expected within five years.

The first building will be fully open by the end of March, Pembroke said.