Monday, August 06, 2007

High-Rise Condos - Ledger - East Orange Hotel Suburban becomes Vista

Published in the Star-Ledger, Sunday, July 29, 2007

High-rise project: Hotel Suburban becomes Vista

Star-Ledger Staff

East Orange's former Hotel Suburban, the once ritzy lodging establishment that used to draw celebrities, politicians and socialites, is getting ready to undergo a $10 million face-lift.

The long-closed hotel-turned office tower became an eyesore that has marred the city's landscape ever since it closed in the mid-1980s.

It's a dream ready to come true, according to Arij Hasan, a developer-investor who successfully bid $1.4 million to purchase the building at an East Orange municipal property auction last summer.

Hasan expects to transform the high-rise into upscale residences and lofts next year, and the idea now bears the name: Vista Towers.

"We're looking to deliver this project by the summer of 2008," said Hasan, referring to creating 100 planned condo residences, mostly one- and two-bedroom units that might sell anywhere from $150,000 to $300,000 each. "We're selling a trend, in terms of a modern, urban lifestyle building. It's all about vision. It requires a lot of ingenuity."

There also will be nine elaborately decorated bi-level penthouses, ranging from 1,200 square feet to 1,800 square feet, created between the existing top 11th floor, and a soon-to-be-added 12th floor, Hasan said.

Four of the penthouses -- two in Vista Towers' front corners, facing the Manhattan skyline, and two in the rear, facing the South Mountain Reservation -- also will feature 5-by-12 balconies.

The construction of the one- and two-bedroom condominiums and barrier-free lofts there could begin as early as late next month. The East Orange Planning Board is expected to vote on whether to give a go-ahead to Hasan's proposal at its 7 p.m. Wednesday meeting in city hall.

"We're currently in the construction document phase of the project, getting ready to secure work permits," Hasan said of the building at 141 S. Harrison St.

The building has been environmentally cleaned up and all asbestos removed from the building, said Hasan, a Newark-based developer who heads both Insight Properties and the Blackstone Group LLC.

Mayor Robert Bowser, a city planning board member, said he likes what Hasan's plans show so far, including a goal to transform a two-story, 12,000-square-foot rear portion of the former hotel into a leased day care facility, with half the roof being turned into a playground area for up to 100 youngsters, and the other half, a sitting area for others.

Plus "there will be adequate parking for residents, visitors and employees," said Bowser, referring to Hasan's plans to create 133 on-site parking spaces alongside the high-rise, and in a rear portion of the site. The underground parking lot of the former hotel has been eliminated.

The building has a rich history in East Orange, beginning as a 250-room high-class lodging facility that became renowned as the Hotel Suburban.

It opened for business on Feb. 28, 1926, when business and social references initially were required to even stay there. The hotel finally went out of business in the late 1970s.

After undergoing a dramatic facade transformation in 1978, it reopened as the Suburban Essex Tower office building. It later became known as the Essex Towers office building.

Since going into foreclosure and getting boarded up in the late 1980s, it has stood in sharp and negative contrast to the otherwise aristocratic and upscale looking charm of the other residential buildings in that same neighborhood.

"We've kept in mind the historic nature of this building," said Hasan, explaining his plans to restore the high-rise and to ensure the new facade blends in with the street's other brick and limestone-facade residences on that once-fashionable thoroughfare. "Now we're bringing it into the 21st century.

Goldie Burbage, president of the Historical Society of East Orange, said her single hope is that Vista Towers mirrors the look of the immediate area.

The pending transformation plans "will definitely upgrade the area," Burbage said. "I just pray that everything will complement the architectural features of the existing buildings."

Hasan reiterated that it will, saying, "It's going to have a modern look, but yet it will pick up some of the historical architecture."

The Hotel Suburban featured a rear first-floor ballroom that could seat up to 500 people, and later, dining facilities known as the Crystal Room, the Mimosa Room and the Rose Room.

Beginning about Dec. 31, 1960, the ultra fancy Paris in the Sky supper club opened up on a then-newly created 11th floor.

That is where club owner Dick Kollmar, a popular radio personality, along with Dorothy Kilgallen, his newspaper columnist and "What's My Line" television program panelist wife -- offered patrons, including Hollywood and Broadway stars, some of the area's best food, entertainment and views of the Manhattan skyline.

Kevin C. Dilworth may be reached at or (973) 392-4143.

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Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.