The completion of major redevelopment projects has helped increase pedestrian traffic in downtown Newark, bringing new glimpses of vitality to a city that hopes to reinvent itself in the coming years.
That was one message from commercial real estate experts during a recent event hosted by the Newark Regional Business Partnership. Speakers pointed to buildings such as the new Prudential Financial skyscraper on Broad Street and the recently opened 15 Washington Street, a historic building that was renovated to become a residence hall for Rutgers-Newark students.
“You’ve got residents now in an area that had no residents,” said Frank Giantomasi of Chiesa Shahinian & Giantomasi PC, who moderated the discussion at the NRBP’s annual real estate market forecast last Wednesday. His feelings were echoed by other speakers, who included development executives and other professionals.
“In the last eight-plus years, we’ve really seen a big change,” said Genova Burns LLC partner Jennifer Mazawey, whose firm moved to 494 Broad St. from Livingston in 2008. “It’s different, it’s more vibrant and there are more people.”
Of Prudential’s new 20-story building, a 740,000-square-foot property farther south on Broad Street, SJP Properties executive Peter Bronsnick said it “ties the neighborhood together.” He pointed to the retailers such as Starbucks and Nike that are part of the footprint of the new building, which was developed by SJP and opened last fall.
“I do think that you do see a lot of similarities here starting to occur that we see in a lot of our other successful urban centers around the state,” said Bronsnick, a senior vice president with SJP.
And while downtown Newark is still far from becoming a full-fledged, 24/7 walkable destination, the panelists said the growth of street-level retail is already changing the landscape for the city’s best-known office properties. At Gateway, the four-building complex interconnected by an internal concourse, landlords are taking a different approach to the retail space that lines those pedestrian walkways.
That has led to additions to the space such as a permanent art gallery and a new studio for NJTV, said Kevin Collins, C&K Properties’ managing director for asset services and finance.
“The city is different today,” said Collins, whose firm is the landlord for 2 Gateway Center. “It’s very much changed. Part of our challenge at Gateway is to change the perception and the use of it so that it’s not as forbidding and it’s gated off and so that it does reconnect to the fabric of the street.
“Our goal with our portion of the concourse is to bring in nontraditional retail uses so that they become destinations.”
David Ortner of Advance Realty, which owns One Gateway Center, said the growth of street-level benefits the city as a whole, and that “the retail in the Gateway is going to have to work harder to keep up.”
“We’re dealing with the tenants to try to figure out what they need to keep that as a strong amenity within the building,” said Ortner, a senior development associate with Advance. “It’s always going to have its advantages in terms of inclement weather and convenience to people in the building, but it’s challenging to keep up with the street.
“New York Penn Station is not going to compete with Fifth Avenue, so it’s a challenge, but we’re looking forward to improving and meet what’s happening on the street.
The panelists also said that, ultimately, the hope is that Newark can follow a 24/7 model akin to Hoboken and Jersey. They also hope the success in the central business district will have a multiplier effect on other parts of the city, as it has in Hudson County.
Bronsnick said it’s still too early to make those comparisons, but Newark has the foundation.
“I think the Ironbound is going to be the catapult that continues to bring people here who want to live here and be downtown,” he said. “And you’ll see just a natural migration outward toward the wards. (With) Hoboken and Jersey City, I think what made them unique was that they kind of took on their own cultural significance, and we have to do a better job of not only selling Newark better, but selling New Jersey better as a real estate community.”
Ortner also pointed to the benefits of the full-fledged redevelopment working taking place in Harrison, which sits just across the Passaic River from Newark.
“The perception of Newark has been an unfortunate challenge that we’ve had to deal with in terms of bringing in new people, and Harrison is more of a blank slate,” Ortner said. “So what I think Harrison does is it brings people into the market and it gives them a second view of Newark when they wouldn’t necessarily have taken the time to look at Newark as an opportunity as a place to live and expand.”
“And if you kind of draw a circle around the Harrison waterfront redevelopment district, Military Park, the central business district and Ironbound, you’d have this really vibrant, dynamic city. And I think the people who are looking at Harrison are ultimately going to spend their time and their dollars in Newark because they see it as a really exciting place to be, and it offers a lot of advantages.”