Downtrodden Asbury Park Attracts Upscale Development

The Wall Street Journal- New York-based developer iStar is pouring money into the New Jersey shore town and bringing in architect Chad Oppenheim and designer Anda Andrei.

After their daughter left for college, pharmaceutical professionals Darrell and Shawn Drennan planned to sell their home in Belle Mead, N.J., but they weren’t sure if they wanted a summer beach house or a full-time residence near the shore. Last May, they got both, paying $690,000 for a four-bedroom in nearby Asbury Park. “You have the conveniences of the city,” Mr. Drennan said, “and the privileges and the beauty of the beach.”

Long considered desolate and crime-ridden, Asbury Park has transformed in recent years, luring second-home buyers—largely millennials and empty nesters who want walkable, urban living in a vacation destination. Home prices are up, a long-stalled redevelopment of the waterfront is beginning to take shape and the restaurant scene is booming: Residents have to make reservations at eateries like Pascal & Sabine even in the off season.

“The town was down the drain for a really long time, but it’s really surging,” said John McGillion, who is developing an “Irish village” of 10 bars and restaurants on Main Street.

Less than 90 minutes from New York City, Asbury Park sits among a cluster of New Jersey Shore communities that serve as family vacation destinations. But unlike other shore towns, Asbury offers a beachside version of city life. Its desirable real estate isn’t mansions but condos on the waterfront and downtown.

A thriving gay community and the city’s established music scene continue to lure summer visitors. Bruce Springsteen, whose debut album was called “Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.,” still takes the stage at the Stone Pony, a boardwalk club.

All the attention is affecting the housing market. In 2015, 437 homes sold in Asbury Park, up from 312 properties in 2014, said Robert White, a managing broker with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage. The median sale price in the fourth quarter of 2015 was $308,000, up 9% over the prior year, and homes spent 16% fewer days on the market, according to Realtor.com. ( News Corp. NWSA -0.28 % , which owns The Wall Street Journal, also owns Realtor.com, the listing website of the National Association of Realtors.)

stagnation took hold of the area. In 1984, the city earmarked a 50-acre parcel of the waterfront for renewal. But its developer went bankrupt, leaving a shell of a building that came to symbolize Asbury’s decay.

A second attempt at a revival occurred in the early-2000s: A new master developer, Asbury Partners, took over. The old shell was demolished, and a developer started work on the Esperanza condos (Spanish for hope) in its place. But by 2009, Asbury Partners was floundering. During the housing bust, several condo projects failed to sell and were turned into rentals. Between 2009 and 2013, Asbury’s median household income was $30,983, less than half the statewide median, according to a city report.

This time around, residents are more optimistic. New York-based real-estate investment trust iStar, which now owns Asbury Partners, took over as master developer of the waterfront in 2010 and is building around 2,400 residences and hotel rooms. Since 2010, iStar has demolished 25 vacant buildings and added about $14.5 million in street lights, sidewalks, benches, landscaping and other infrastructure.

In May, the company will open the Asbury, the city’s first new hotel in 50 years. Monroe, a 34-unit condo building designed by architect Chad Oppenheim, where prices will range from $445,000 to $1.2 million, is under construction. Next up is 1101 Ocean, a mix of condos, hotel rooms and stores, built on the foundation of the Esperanza. The developer’s first project, a 28-townhouse development called the Vive, is sold out. So is the South Grand, a different 28-townhouse development by K. Hovnanian Homes, the first national homebuilder to build in Asbury in a generation.

For all its projects iStar said it plans to build a more cosmopolitan product—sleek units with floor-to-ceiling windows, rather than suburban-style townhomes. Anda Andrei, Ian Schrager’s longtime design director, is overseeing design of all the buildings.

Some residents are investing. Connie Nappi and her wife, Laura Szabadics, were among the first buyers at the Eureka, an Art Deco-style building downtown converted to 23 duplex condos. The couple paid $885,000 for a 2,200-square-foot penthouse with a 1,200-square-foot roofdeck, which they use as a second home. They now rent out their downtown condo.

In 2012, Gina Giannasio bought a two-bedroom at North Beach, a 157-condo waterfront complex. This month, she and her husband upgraded to a more expensive duplex. “You almost feel more like a local when you start complaining that the beaches are too crowded on the weekends,” she said. “But as far as I’m concerned, that’s a good problem to have.”

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