From left: John Saraceno, co-founder and managing principal of Onyx Equities; Tim Lizura, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s senior vice president of real estate and capital projects; Karl Frederic, a partner with Windels Marx Lane & Mittendorf LLP; Richard Dunn, a senior vice president with Paramount Assets; and Peter Bronsnick, an executive vice president with SJP Properties, were part of a panel discussion at the Newark Regional Business Partnership’s annual real estate forecast event. Frank Ferruggia (far right), a partner with McCarter & English LLP, moderated the discussion. — Courtesy: NRBP/Sean Sime Photography
By Joshua Burd
The nondescript, two-block corridor known as Treat Place is certainly easy to miss, but it’s a piece of downtown Newark that has caught the attention of Paramount Assets.
Richard Dunn, a senior vice president with the firm, describes the street as “an old back alleyway” that was once used for deliveries to buildings that front on Broad Street. But with a growing number of new residential units in the neighborhood, Paramount and fellow property owners are now pitching what they feel would be a critical improvement.
“We feel that if we can reprogram that alleyway to a pedestrian plaza, it will help stabilize the ‘people on streets’ aspect,” said Dunn, whose firm recently delivered William Flats, a 37-unit property that backs up to Treat Place. “We want people there, living there, enjoying open space.”
As developers continue to invest in downtown Newark, the city is attracting both new residents and businesses. That makes it all the more important to create amenities and spaces that will bring permanent foot traffic during the day and at night, which has become a growing focus for both public- and private-sector leaders in the state’s largest city.
“Things that encourage pedestrians to be on the street and to activate the streets are really going to further catapult Newark to something that’s vibrant and viable,” said Peter Bronsnick, an executive vice president with SJP Properties, speaking last week during a forum hosted by the Newark Regional Business Partnership.
Several high-profile efforts are underway to create new pedestrian traffic in the downtown. To that end, Bronsnick and other panelists praised Edison Properties for the adaptive reuse project known as Ironside Newark. Plans for the 456,000-square-foot property at McCarter Highway and Edison Place include ground-floor retail and restaurant space that will flow into Mulberry Commons, a planned three-acre park between Newark Penn Station and the Prudential Center.
John Saraceno, co-founder and managing principal of Onyx Equities LLC, hopes to extend that foot traffic northward to Market Street and Raymond Boulevard with the firm’s planned overhaul of the Gateway office complex. The company was part of a group that acquired One, Two and Four Gateway earlier this year, gaining control of the indoor concourse that connects the buildings to Newark Penn.
Besides renovating the pedestrian tunnels, Onyx plans to make street-level improvements such as extending the façade of One Gateway to the curb and creating a two-story retail environment with restaurants and retailers.
“You look at the base of One Gateway and it’s completely counterintuitive to you as to how it just sort of sits there dark and empty,” Saraceno said. “Rest assured, in a year, it won’t look like that. The amount of activity and interest from prominent food and beverage users and other retail-oriented tenants is intense right now. And I think our biggest challenge right now is just trying to plan it first, decide what we think is the best thing to do and then attract the tenants.”
Creating such an environment would add to the flow of pedestrian activity moving east to west from Newark Penn Station. But Tim Lizura, who oversees development around the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, also cited the importance of creating permanent foot traffic beyond those who commute into Newark.
That means continuing to add amenities and services that will support new residential projects that have opened in recent years, including One Theater Square across from NJPAC and the Hahne & Co. complex on Broad Street.
“We’re finally getting some critical mass downtown that will have people walking around at night — and they do want something to do,” said Lizura, NJPAC’s senior vice president of real estate and capital projects.
In response to a question from the panel’s moderator, McCarter & English LLP attorney Frank Ferruggia, Lizura agreed that the performing arts center continues to play a key role in that effort. But he said it can’t be the only thing that the neighborhood offers.
“It is something to do when you’re living here, but a series of other amenities have to be brought to the table,” said Lizura, who played host to the program at NJPAC. “So when we speak with our colleagues, we are always talking about: ‘What is the amenity package at the street level that has the appropriate mix of merchandising citywide to make the decision to live here an easy decision?’
“And I would say there is nothing more important in the entire conversation than the Whole Foods that decided to move downtown. Without a supermarket downtown that you can walk to, we can all just pack up and go home, because that’s the first thing people in any urban market talk about.”
Bronsnick, the SJP Properties executive, said that keeping individuals on the streets will allow Newark to become more than just “a secondary market to New York City.” With the right retail, restaurants and public spaces, he said, Newark residents won’t see the need to head into Manhattan at night and on weekends in order to dine and recreate.
Creating a residential base downtown goes hand in hand with building a workforce that lives in Newark, the panelists said, given that the city is inherently walkable. That workforce could include residents who grew up or went to college in Newark, who understand that they can live in the city without owning a car.
“That makes its ideally attractive to the millennials who are coming out and going into the workforce,” said Karl Frederic, a partner with Windels Marx Lane & Mittendorf LLP. “So a well-trained millennial or individual who comes out of our educational institutions has a very attractive very proposition by remaining in Newark.”