Union Invests in Downtown With Development and Improvements

Residents will soon see a dramatic change in Union Center as the Township of Union Planning Board recently approved an application from American Landmark Developers to develop 300 linear feet of Stuyvesant Ave starting at Terminal Mill Ends and moving towards Unity Bank. The development will include new retail and residential spaces.
The move comes on the cusp of the start of the Stuyvesant Ave Streetscape Project, a complete overhaul of the street, curbs, sidewalks and street fixtures on the busy thoroughfare; all in an effort to turn Union Center into a focal point for a new lifestyle experience.
“We know that the topic of conversation for quite some time has been with regard to revitalization,” said Mayor Suzette Cavadas.
Union Center is frequently remembered as a hub for community and quality shopping. But after years of wear, and then the online shopping boom, the Center has been in need of some new energy.
Sara Perara and her brother Rob have owned “Van Gogh’s Ear,” a popular café in Union Center for almost 8 years. In discussing the coming transformation she notes that they thought long and hard about moving after their first year in business.
“In the end we decided to stick it out,” Perara said, “I am so thrilled we made that decision. With the Streetscape Project and the prospect of putting more apartments in we can finally thrive instead of just getting by.”
Township Administrator Ron Manzella noted that the Township Committee and Administration have been at the table discussing how to transform Union Center for a number of years.
“What people don’t seem to understand is that there were some very fundamental, and costly issues that needed to be dealt with before we jumped into redevelopment and beautification,” Manzella said.
Some of those issues included upgrades to water and gas lines that, if not done prior to the Streetscape project, would have left the road vulnerable to disrepair and eventually cost additional taxpayer dollars.
With those upgrades recently completed, one can now see various stages of work in different areas of the Center. Phase one of the Stuyvesant Ave Streetscape project which spans Vauxhall Rd. to Morris Ave. is currently ongoing with improvements to include historic granite bands at mid-block crossings, new light poles, and new furniture which will be coming in early fall, and full reconstruction and repaving of the street taking place in the late fall. Phase two, which spans Morris Ave to the Cannon at the end of Stuyvesant Ave, is scheduled to begin in the Spring of 2018.
The beautification and upgraded infrastructure are reportedly the first steps in making Union Center more marketable to new and existing businesses; and according to Mayor Cavadas the results are already taking root.
She noted businesses that recently opened like “Norma’s Flowers,” “Vision Eyewear” and “Care Pharmacy;” and mentioned a host of others including the soon-to-come opening of “Kung Fu Tea,” “Beauty Supply Store,” “Bed, Bath and Body,” “Jammed up” an expansion of “Van Gogh’s Ear,” and a new medical building opening across from “Stop n’ Shop” on Stuyvesant Ave later on this summer.
The application from American Landmark Developers is part of the second step in the process, geared at addressing the lack of foot traffic in the area by creating a built-in community of shoppers with a development model the likes of Cara Lofts at the intersection of Morris and Stuyvesant Avenues.
“This project is an ambitious one,” said Ruben Peraza, owner of the popular ice cream spot “Magic Fountain” at a recent Planning Board meeting. “I believe in this town and believe that it’s coming back to life,” Peraza continued “its progress and revitalization that we need in this town.”
Cara Lofts opened in 2014; its success sparked a second mixed use development across from Stop n’ Shop and O’Lagar Restaurant which broke ground late last year. Both include a mix of retail and residential spaces with the second project expected to be completed this fall. The American Landmark Developers Project will utilize the same model with construction beginning late this year.
“In essence, we are creating a neighborhood downtown, where people who live in Union Center will also shop, eat and spend their leisure time there. This, combined with a new ambiance and an aggressive push for higher caliber retailers, is certain to give the Center the energy that it needs to thrive,” Cavadas said.

(above) Renderings of the proposed development by American Landmark Developers starting at Terminal Mill Ends on Stuyvesant Ave and spanning 300 linear feet towards Unity Bank.

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