When New Yorkers think of New Jersey office space, warehouses and distribution centers, rarely do they think of Kearny Point. But that could soon change, as this type of adaptive reuse is growing in popularity — especially with young, early-stage startups.
Kearny Point is now a trendy office and warehouse space that’s home to hundreds of innovative businesses. It’s located in an old shipyard in South Kearny, New Jersey, and was designed by New York architecture firm STUDIOS, led by Graham Clegg. Hugo Neu, a renowned value-add industrial real estate developer, built the site. Throughout the sprawling 12 buildings on site of its 130-acre space, there are remnants of the shipyard.
Companies like Verizon, Uniqlo, ABC Studios, strawberry company Oishii and electronics firm Ocupoint all have office spaces there, as well as YouTuber Marques Brownlee, who has interviewed everyone from Barack Obama to Bill Gates. It’s being called a creative workspace for the new economy.
“Given its location, it has become a warehousing and distribution site,” said Michael Meyer, the Director of Development at Kearny Point.
There are old structures in place for trucking, warehousing and distribution for small and large companies, from e-commerce firms to large film studios, like 20th Century Fox.
“Over the past five years, we have been in the process of repositioning the property, taking some of the historic structures and trying to find more economically viable and productive, environmentally conscious reuses,” Meyer explained.
They started by renovating three buildings. The first one they call Building 78, which was at first vacant for 20 years.
“Now, we have roughly 200 businesses working in that one space with over 250 workers, a diversity of different types of companies,” he said.
As part of their company mission, 50% of their tenants are women and minority-owned companies, from communal kitchens to home and wellness products.
What sets it apart from other adaptive reuses is that it has become a hub for entrepreneurs and small businesses who would have otherwise not been accepted for long- or short-term leases, due to limited or unavailable credit history.
“We are different from your usual office landlords or creative offices or flex spaces; we don’t require tenants to have good credit, we just say you can’t have bad credit,” Meyer explained.
“It’s a huge discriminator in the market; we don’t have long lease terms. We don’t require people to sign multi-year leases. Up until the pandemic hit, we had a co-working space which had month to month membership. That has been shut down temporarily, but that’s partly how we support businesses who have been typically excluded from the market.”
Their mission is not only about collecting rents and providing tenants space, but more.
“Our goals also include economic diversification and economic justice,” Meyer added.
Kearny Point is also dedicated to environmental protection and restoration, as the team are focused on climate change and protecting the site from rising sea levels, while reducing their carbon footprint. The building is WELL Certified for its commitment to wellness and health standards, too.
Building 78 features 90,000 square feet of flexible office space. Tech startup Sembient, which aids smart buildings, has now made this building their home. Sembient joined as part of New Jersey’s Economic Development Authority Ignite program, which provides up to 10 months of rent support for new tech and life science companies.
Kearny Point also has Building 197, which has 200,000 square feet of new construction and two vertical farming enterprises completed.
“We have 12 buildings onsite, but have developed three buildings first,” Meyer said. “Depending on the market, demand and financing, the other buildings will be developed.”
What makes an adaptive reuse like this building unique is the amount of space it has onsite. It used to be a port storage during the Second World War, so has a different character than a soulless office tower. It also has a history.
The building was first founded in the 20th century as a federal shipyard. Its dock was owned by the U.S. Field Association, which used to build and launch ships during the First World War and the Second World War. The Hugo Neu corporation acquired the site in the 1960s, then turned it into a scrap metal company that docked, dismantled and scrapped ships. Then it became an asset management company.
Gaining office space is tough for entrepreneurs based in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Kearny Point feels a bit like an affordable outpost.
“It’s for folks, startups and small businesses that are squeezed out by rising rents and are looking to the west to find more suitable accommodating spaces,” he said. “We have seen a bunch of New York City businesses come here. We’ve found there is a huge startup and small business community in Jersey, too, who can’t find quality spaces with an environment, too. We support them.”
It is becoming a home to makers, content creators and digital innovators with warehouses, offices and even film sets. The property boasts open workspaces that can be rented month-to-month or long-term.
Many offices come with desks and communal areas, as move-in-ready private offices with their own locked entry. They also have creative offices with room for e-commerce inventory, mail and package handling services, a conference room and private rooms for calls.
The focus is for young startups, which are often run by young entrepreneurs.
“We have no shortage of early-stage companies,” said Meyer. “And it’s not all tech oriented; we have early-stage small businesses, like hair stylists because it’s important for us to have a cross section of a diversity of businesses.”
Aiming to usher in a wide diversity of workers, cultures and businesses, Kearny Point is for more than millennials. Their team hopes to attract entrepreneurs of all ages.
It is also home to 20th Century Fox, which has turned parts of the building into a modern film and TV studio. They recently shot and recorded the second season of Hulu series “Wu-Tang: An American Saga” here.
“We have seen a huge amount of film production activity here; there’s an over- abundance of film production activity, and we have high-quality studios with 46-foot-high ceilings, loading docks too,” Meyer noted. “We like those uses because they’re high-quality union jobs, which usually densify the economic activity, and they spin off lots of peripheral economic activity that we’re trying to create here.”
As the other buildings fill up, we’ll see what’s next for Kearny Point.