While skyscrapers continue to rise in Jersey City and across the Hudson River, Newark is gearing up for its own transformation.
Earlier this month, construction officially began on One Theater Square, a $116 million, 22-story high-rise residential development.
When it’s completed in 2018, the building will sit directly across from the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and Military Park and blocks from Newark Penn Station and the Prudential Center.
The building will make a statement in downtown Newark, said Carl Dranoff, president and founder of Dranoff Properties Inc., the developer on the project, rattling off a list of amenities: high-quality finishes in all 245 units; balconies with every unit; 12,000 feet of retail on the first floor; outdoor rooftop space; and “the best-looking parking garage in the state.”
According to officials involved with the project, One Theater Square is another step in a methodical revitalization effort that revolves around NJPAC. As it has in other American cities, officials are hopeful the combination of arts, entertainment and downtown living can breathe new life into Newark.
“We want Newark to be the 24/7 live, work, play destination,” John Schreiber, CEO and president of NJPAC, said.
The vision for downtown Newark is well over 10 years in the making and extends back to former Gov. Thomas Kean’s college years in Manhattan, said Schreiber. Kean wanted New Jersey to have its own world-class performing arts center.
As a college student at Columbia University in the late 1950s, Kean was present when Lincoln Center was built in a debilitated Upper West Side, a far cry from the affluence people are more familiar with in the present-day neighborhood. While Lincoln Center was a boon to the area and the economy, and revitalized the neighborhood, planners failed to purchase adjacent properties in order to steer development. This meant nearby properties had nothing to do with Lincoln Center upon completion, Schreiber said.
When NJPAC was conceived and the land was purchased on Center Street, three adjoining properties were also purchased to be developed in the future. One Theater Square will sit on one of these parcels, a 1.2-acre plot that currently functions as administrative offices and parking.
With the presence of NJPAC and the addition of residential spaces nearby, officials are hoping the transition that has occurred in other cities will also occur in Newark.
Schreiber offered a few examples. Take Fort Greene, a neighborhood that flourished alongside the Brooklyn Academy of Music with the addition of residences. Or Playhouse Square, a performing arts center in downtown Cleveland that attracted residential buildings, retail stores and businesses to the area. Or the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.
All three have one common characteristic: the arts center as the impetus for the revitalization, and as the initial attraction to the area.
“The job of the destination is to give people more than one thing to do when they get here,” Schreiber said.
Ideally, he said, people will venture in for a concert but come four hours early, visit Military Park or the Newark Museum, or grab a bite in the Ironbound district.
“I want Newark to be much more than a one-off destination and I want Newark to be a place where people choose to live,” he said.
Dranoff Properties was named as the developer for the project in 2007. The firm had just completed construction of the Symphony House, 163 luxury condominiums located on the Avenue of the Arts in Philadelphia near venues like the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts.
“We really understood and leveraged the relationship between arts, culture and residential living,” Dranoff said.
He was already familiar with NJPAC’s vision for the neighborhood as well as the dearth of housing options for the roughly 50,000 employees who work downtown for companies like Prudential.
“They’re all there and they had no (housing) choices,” Dranoff said.
In the past, Dranoff Properties has tried to identify cities or areas with the right ingredients for a successful project before joining in to serve as the catalyst, coming in on the front end of big projects. With that comes the possibility of being too early for a revitalization effort.
But, Dranoff said, he hasn’t been wrong yet. When completed, Dranoff estimated, the apartments will cost roughly 30 percent less than comparable spaces in New York City and will come with unencumbered views of the city skyline.
Development is currently in full swing and began after financial arrangements for the project were wrapped up through a unique public-private partnership by NJPAC, Dranoff Properties, Newark, the state, Prudential Financial and Fifth Third Bank.
Some of these arrangements include a $33 million tax credit from the state Economic Development Authority and an $11 million grant from the city of Newark, according to the EDA.
While Dranoff was privy to NJPAC’s vision, he admits that, in 2007, he couldn’t have foreseen what else would happen in Newark: the overhaul of Military Park, renovations coming to the historic Hahne’s Building and other smaller rehab projects.
“All the stars are aligned right now for Newark to take off,” Dranoff said.