‘It’s a terrific catalyst for the community’

Opening of Prudential skyscraper is another step for Newark

Joshua Burd//October 5, 2015//

‘It’s a terrific catalyst for the community’

Opening of Prudential skyscraper is another step for Newark

Joshua Burd//October 5, 2015//

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“Not that I know anything about building structures, but I was fascinated by the engineering,” Strangfeld, Prudential’s chairman and CEO, told NJBIZ. “It was almost like a mechanical ballet as you watch the different parts of the superstructure go up — it’s just exciting to see.”

Equally exciting, he said, is the impact it will have on downtown Newark.

“It’s a big enhancement for our employees in terms of quality of workspace and physical setting,” Strangfeld said. “It’s also a terrific catalyst in the community, and our employees are proactively going to be in the community as a consequence of that, too.

“So I think it accomplishes both objectives, which was our intention from the outset.”

It’s a sentiment shared by stakeholders in and around the city about a 740,000-square-foot building that, for all its splendor — with a striking 19-story atrium and a white, light-filled interior — will have an economic ripple effect on surrounding businesses and neighborhoods. And Prudential executives say it’s just the beginning, even for a company that has anchored New Jersey’s largest city for 140 years.

One only needs to walk across the street from the building, where a new Starbucks opened last month as part of the project’s 47,000-square-foot retail component. It marked the return of the coffee chain to Broad Street, following the 2008 closure of a location about two blocks south that The New York Times described as “a trauma” to Newark.

That was not lost on U.S. Rep. Donald M. Payne Jr. (D-Newark), who referenced it last week in a comment that was somewhat tongue-in-cheek but also struck a serious note about the city’s economy.

“You know you’ve arrived when Starbucks comes back to Newark and is part of the downtown,” Payne said, speaking at the ribbon-cutting event for the new Prudential building. “We had one in the first turn in the city and it went away, and now we see them once again, so we know there’s hope for Newark if Starbucks is downtown.”

Francis J. Giantomasi, who served as Prudential’s development counsel on the project, said the tower “leads to the stabilization of the heart of the city,” bringing national retail and products that can ultimately support downtown residential living. Now that those components are in place, he said, housing should follow.

“If Jersey City had the residential revolution, Newark had the commercial revolution,” said Giantomasi, a member of West Orange-based Chiesa Shahinian & Giantomasi. “Now you’ve got the critical mass built, and this should turn into the stabilizing effect that we’ve been looking for.”

Much of that will come from the 3,000 employees who will ultimately populate the tower, which sits on Broad Street two blocks north of Raymond Boulevard. And Prudential executives say they’re far from finished when it comes to making a community impact.

At a glance
Prudential Financial’s new 20-story office tower
Size: 740,000 square feet and 309 feet tall. It has capacity for nearly 3,000 employees.
Developer: SJP Properties
Architect: Kohn Pederson Fox Associates
Amenities: There is a 3,700-square-foot workout area, a 6,800-square-foot conference center and a high-tech trading floor.
Notable Outside is a green wall, bottom right, that is 60 feet high and 30 feet wide. The lobby houses a media wall, below, that is 22 feet high and 17 feet wide. The structure spans two city blocks.

In fact, Lata Reddy, vice president for corporate social responsibility, said the new tower is only step one.

“We built the building, but what our hope was and what we’re seeing come to fruition is to inject a new sense of vitality into this part of the downtown,” Reddy said. “We have 2,300 employees in the tower now and that population will grow, but what we’ve already seen is that people are leaving the building, they’re frequenting the local restaurants, the local businesses, the park — so (they’re) creating a sense of vibrancy and vitality that we were all hoping to see.”

That’s along with more than $150 million worth of investments Prudential has made in downtown revitalization projects, including the redevelopment of the historic Hahne & Co. building, the restoration of Military Park and the conversion of the former First National State Bank building into the Hotel Indigo. Step two, Reddy said, is to make additional investments “that will continue along those same lines but move a little further out from the footprint of the tower.”

SJP’s work
It is certainly not the first time SJP Properties has built a state-of-the-art office building for a big-name corporate tenant, but Prudential Financial’s new 20-story tower is just a little bit different for Steve Pozycki.
That’s partly because his development firm has spent years partnering with Prudential Real Estate Investors on other projects.
“We’ve had a great experience and they’re great people,” said Pozycki, SJP’s founder and CEO. “To really get closer to Pru in Newark and the parent company and to see how they operate, it was an honor to work for them.
“And they make family with people who need them to be family,” he said, referring to the company’s relationship with Newark. “It was just a humbling experience to work for a company that has that kind of commitment.”

She said it was too soon to discuss specifics, but that the investments would include a mix of residential and commercial uses. She added that “it’s about density and more is more, so (we’ll be) creating more opportunities for people to come and create a community and take advantage of all the wonderful things that Newark has to offer.”

Even with the optimism spurred by the $444 million project, it was not without controversy. The plan at first called for Prudential to vacate nearly 1 million square feet in the city’s Gateway complex, stoking fears about a seismic impact to Newark’s commercial real estate market.

Also, the construction was supported by a $210 million state tax credit from the Economic Development Authority in 2012, the largest such award during the life of the Urban Transit Hub program. Last week’s ceremony quickly drew criticism from New Jersey Policy Perspective, a left-leaning think tank that is one of the staunchest critics of state incentive programs.

‘Things are coming together’
Last week’s ceremony to open Prudential Financial’s gleaming new office tower took place on the building’s fifth floor, with a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows serving as a backdrop.
So it was hard to miss the laborers working atop the soon-to-be-redeveloped Hahne & Co. building next door. It’s also hard to understate the impact that the new skyscraper will have on such a project.
“There’s incredible impact tied to this,” said Rutgers-Newark Chancellor Nancy Cantor, whose school will occupy a portion of the Hahne’s building and also has plans for a 500-bed residential project nearby. Already, she said, “all of our students are just pouring into Military Park.”
“Things are just coming together,” she said. “This is going to really change the landscape in fundamental ways.”

“Prudential’s handsome new tower disguises its high costs to New Jersey’s taxpayers,” New Jersey Policy Perspective President Gordon MacInnes said. “The tax subsidies down the road will make it even harder for the state to invest in the assets like higher education, transportation and safe communities that explain New Jersey’s real competitive position.”

That may have made last week’s milestone especially gratifying for state officials. Tim Lizura, president and chief operating officer of the state Economic Development Authority, called it “the game-changer we hoped it was going to be.”

“What’s the saying? Success has a thousand fathers and failure is an orphan,” Lizura said. “You see a thousand fathers here, because this is the epitome of success. It changes the cityscape, it makes the connection between Rutgers-Newark and the downtown, it changes the streetscape and Military Park was brought back to life as part of it.

“It is just everything we had hoped it to be and more. So we’re thrilled to be here today and we hope for more to come.”

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On Twitter: @joshburdnj

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