Audible’s new Innovation Cathedral on James St. in Newark — Courtesy: Audible
By Joshua Burd
Audible has completed its restoration of a historic church in downtown Newark, debuting a new 80,000-square-foot office and innovation space as part of its growing footprint in the city.
The audiobook maker on Friday marked the opening of its new Innovation Cathedral at the corner of James and Washington streets. Located within the former Second Presbyterian Church, a church built in 1933, the space is the new home of 400 Audible employees and includes game areas, an auditorium, a refurbished bowling alley, an exhibit space, work cafés and lounges.
Founder and CEO Don Katz welcomed elected officials and business leaders last week to open the new facility.
“The Innovation Cathedral is a proud landmark for Newark and a powerful symbol of Audible’s commitment to the city for more than a decade,” Katz said. “We have defined ourselves by the strategic pursuit of what a successful company can mean in ways that transcend what it does — and today is proof that our efforts are yielding positive outcomes for business and invention culture, for the many talented people who want to work with us, and for the comeback of this great American city.
“Doing the right thing is a responsibility all corporations must take seriously — and that companies anchored in cities like Newark have an obligation to lead.”
All photos courtesy: Audible
The completed project is the latest milestone for Audible, an Amazon subsidiary, since Katz moved the company to Newark in 2007. It has since grown from 100 full-time employees to more than 1,650 and has been at the forefront of private-sector investment in Newark and believing in the city’s revival.
The new Innovation Cathedral is just a short walk from its Washington Street headquarters and will bolster the company’s goal of supporting students, interns and entrepreneurs and growing a tech ecosystem to help transform the city, according to a news release. To develop the space, Audible rehabilitated the church while preserving many of its historic elements, including its distinctive stained-glass windows, organ pipes and bowling alley.
Its investment in the city has also included Katz’s founding in 2015 of Newark Venture Partners, a $45 million venture capital fund and accelerator that has invested in 60 early-stage companies to plant roots in Newark, the news release said. Hundreds of Audible employees are on call to mentor these startups, which take space at Audible’s One Washington Park headquarters.
The company, meantime, has offered jobs and training programs to Newark residents, including some who were formerly homeless, as well as incentives such as housing subsidies for employees who choose to move to the city from elsewhere.
“This new Innovation Cathedral is testament to the innovative solutions that can empower communities,” said U.S. Sen. and former Newark Mayor Cory Booker. “Audible has been an incredible partner for the city of Newark, giving Newark students paid internships and a chance to earn and learn, employing Newark residents in their world-class customer service team, and, through Newark Venture Partners, helping leverage venture dollars here in our city to multiply opportunity. Audible encourages its employees to be first class citizens and find ways to continue to give back to a city that is showing the right way to charge back.”
The company has completed the Innovation Cathedral project four years after being awarded a 10-year, $39.3 million tax credit under the state’s Grow New Jersey program, which has come under fire recently amid an investigation by Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration. Murphy has blasted the program and the state Economic Development Authority, which administers the incentives, over concerns about poor oversight and overly generous awards under former Gov. Chris Christie.
The EDA said at the time that the incentive would help Audible create a new engineering and development hub in the city, retain 50 jobs that were at risk of being moved out of New Jersey and create an additional 350. Over a 20-year period, the authority estimated the project would yield a net benefit to the state of $103.4 million.
Grow New Jersey recipients do not begin to collect tax credits until their project is completed and they provide verification of the jobs they had pledged to create. Murphy and other officials quoted in Audible’s release did not reference the incentive package, but hailed the growth of a leading technology company in the state’s largest city.
“Since taking office, I have been adamant that attracting and supporting high-growth innovation companies is the key to New Jersey’s future economic growth and job creation,” Murphy said. “Don Katz, Audible, and Newark Venture Partners have been a model and a partner in advancing new tech-focused economic policies with me, here in Newark, in Trenton, and even on my trade mission to Berlin.
“Audible’s story of job creation, of economic, community, and social impact in Newark, and its investment in restoring Newark’s rich history of innovation is a testament to our strategy and a symbol of New Jersey’s promising future.”
Meantime, Mayor Ras Baraka said Audible’s investment is “one powerful example of the over $4 billion in economic development occurring across the city today, but it is so much more.”
“It is a symbol of preserving Newark’s history as we embrace our future, and emblematic of a company with a moral compass driving inclusive growth, elevating our students with educational tools and internships, and supporting the local economy by living local and buying local,” he said.