New Jersey Transit hire signals a focus on real estate development

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New Jersey Transit, in a bid to bolster revenues, has hired its first real estate chief.

NJ Transit announced Tuesday that Carmen Taveras is the agency’s first chief of real estate, economic development and transit-oriented development.

Taveras, who was formerly with Wereldhave USA, a subsidiary of a Europe-based real estate investment trust, joined NJ Transit effective Nov. 18.

“Carmen brings a wealth of experience to the job and will be a huge asset in our vision to more aggressively use [transit oriented development] to develop under-utilized properties around transit, optimize the value of assets across the state, and generate additional non-farebox revenue, “NJ Transit executive director Kevin Corbett said in a statement.

At Wereldhave, Tavares spearheaded the operating and investment strategy for the company’s U.S. portfolio. She also led acquisitions, ground-up construction and property valuations along with chairing the Wereldhave USA board of directors for seven years.

Tavares’ notable transactions at Wereldhave included the sale of 20 Exchange Place, a 56-story office tower in New York City’s Financial District, and developing 120 acres of raw land in San Antonio, Texas.

The new position was created to comply with legislation signed by Gov. Phil Murphy in 2018 requiring that the agency establish an office of real estate, economic development and transit-oriented development. The office will assess and develop recommendations for transit-oriented development opportunities on NJ Transit-owned parcels. The new law requires NJ Transit to issue a report disclosing all properties owned and the appraised values for parcels no longer needed.

Murphy released an audit in October 2018 that said the nation’s largest statewide mass transit system had inadequate and uncertain financing and lacked a plan to manage its $5.3 billion of capital assets.

Former NJ Transit Deputy Executive Director Martin Robins said it is long past due for the agency to explore monetizing train station properties after initial efforts to allow real estate development during formation of the agency in 1979 did not come to fruition. Robins, who helped create NJ Transit, said that generating new revenues from station parcels will be challenging given how little room there is to develop around parking lots.

“New Jersey Transit doesn’t have acres and acres of properties that are unused,” said Robins, who is director emeritus of the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University. “It’s not going to be simple.”

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