A rendering of the 500,000-square-foot mass timber office tower slated for Riverfront Square, a mixed-use project in Newark by Lotus Equity Group — Courtesy: Lotus Equity Group
By Joshua Burd
Ben Korman points to the early stages of his firm’s 12-acre redevelopment plan in downtown Newark — and his reaction to the idea of having the largest timber office tower in the U.S.
As he recalls, “we immediately fell in love with it,” believing the concept would offer something that is unique to the market. And if there had been any doubt, he said, it was all but erased when his brokerage team followed suit by embracing the concept.
“That gave us the cue that it would work,” said Korman, founder and CEO of Lotus Equity Group. “And we have some interest right now and the mass timber is actually the reason why they’re looking at it — because it is so unique and so special, and we don’t need to explain much. It sells itself just from the feel of the visuals.
“People actually get how people would feel from the inside.”
Lotus hopes to tap into the intrigue of a mass timber office building as it markets plans for Riverfront Square, a sweeping mixed-use project at the site of the former Newark Bears stadium. The developer and its marketing team, led by brokers with Cushman & Wakefield, are also banking on the rising interest in Newark as a destination for new office users, following recent high-profile deals and the city’s selection as a finalist for Amazon’s second headquarters.
“It really created a lot of recognition — and recognition of the advantages that you get in the city,” said John Picco, an executive director with Cushman & Wakefield. “So when I talk to brokers and when I talk to principals about Newark, the reaction is: ‘It’s an interesting thought, because we’ve heard there’s a lot of good things happening in Newark.’ ”
Lotus unveiled the design of the 11-story, 500,000-square-foot tower early this year, touting the health benefits of timber-built structures and the ability to help tenants with their sustainability goals. Designed by Michael Green Architecture, the project would require an anchor tenant before breaking ground, but it will give way to a project that also calls for up to 2,000 residential units, retail, open space and a hotel along the city’s light rail line.
Brokers are banking on the appeal of a mixed-use setting and the fact that Newark — which benefits from its connectivity, educated workforce and high-speed internet capabilities — has a glaringly older stock of office buildings. Korman said his team has now engaged prospective tenants of all sizes and from a wide range of industries, despite initially believing that only technology firms would be best-suited for Riverfront Square.
“As we got deeper into the process, it was clear to us that every tenant in today’s market is internet-reliant and uses technology,” Korman said. “And therefore every tenant — even low-tech — is a tech tenant, so we are really looking very broadly and it could come from any sector.”
Picco echoed that belief during an interview in April, citing the ability to serve either companies that have a presence in Manhattan as well as those that are based in suburban New Jersey. He also said there are several large office requirements in the market, which bodes well for Newark as the city’s profile continues to rise.
For one thing, Newark was among 20 finalists for Amazon’s coveted second headquarters project. The ecommerce giant has not announced its selection, but stakeholders have said that simply making the short list was a major victory for New Jersey’s largest city.
But Newark is also riding the momentum of several high-profile deals, including Mars Wrigley Confectionery U.S.’ commitment to more than 100,000 square feet at the Ironside Newark project, plus Broadridge Financial Solutions’ 160,000-square-foot lease at 2 Gateway Center.
Picco said the interest in Newark has been a reminder of the need for new office space in the city. He also cited the appeal of modern, mixed-use environments akin to Hudson Yards, the 18 million-square-foot, master-planned development on Manhattan’s West Side.
Riverfront Square aims to check all of those boxes.
“Unlike some of the prior developments in Newark, where you’re kind of isolated or taken off the street, this is designed to bring the community into the development,” Picco said, also pointing to the project’s five acres of open space. “So we think that’s also going to create a much better environment for office workers.”
Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects is overseeing the open space component, rounding out a design team that also includes TEN Arquitectos, Practice for Architecture and Urbanism and Minno & Wasko Architects and Planners. As currently planned, Riverfront Square would transform the former minor league baseball site, which closed after the Bears folded in 2013.
Lotus acquired the property in late 2016. In an interview, Korman said the firm could also break ground on the first residential phase, which includes about 740 apartments, as demand swells for new market-rate units in the city.
“We think it’s a great environment for live, work and play and that Newark could offer 24-7 possibilities for people that want to walk to their workplace and all of the amenities for a critical mass,” he said. “The infrastructure is there.”