Teachers Village in Newark — Courtesy: Scott Frances
By Joshua Burd
The sight of Newark Mayor Ras Baraka celebrating a development project in his city has become all too familiar in recent months.
But it was clear Tuesday that the latest milestone, the opening of the heralded Teachers Village project in the downtown, was especially significant. After all, the project dates back to a time when most developers couldn’t see the upside of building in Newark.
“So you had to have people that were willing to take big risks,” Baraka said. “Ron Beit was willing to take those risks and was willing to build this community down here, in this neighborhood, when many people probably thought that it should not have happened or it could not have happened.
“And because he did that, many people began to follow that lead and develop in other places in the downtown community, which sparked millions and millions of dollars’ worth of development in the city and now throughout the (city),” he added. “The whole entire city is now feeling what has taken place here and began at Teachers Village.”
Beit, the founder and CEO of RBH Group, joined Baraka and other public officials on Tuesday to unveil the $150 million project in downtown Newark. Sitting just west of Halsey Street and north of Pearl Street, the six-building, 400,000-square-foot project has transformed five blocks in the city, resulting in 204 moderately priced apartments, three charter schools, open space and 65,000 square feet of retail space.
To be sure, the development is a far cry from what stood there before a groundbreaking for the project in February 2012, along with the years of planning that preceded the start of construction. Beit told the crowd that “exactly where you’re sitting, I used to jump up and down with pretty pictures on a broken surface parking lot, looking out at a sea of other parking lots.”
“When we broke ground on Teachers Village, I said that we looked forward to the day when Newark students would be sitting in brand new schools, their teachers living in beautiful, moderately priced apartments, with open space, recreational amenities and retail establishments that make a community a neighborhood,” Beit said. “That day has come.”
The project was every bit as pioneering as it was complex. Beit and other speakers lauded the public-private partnership behind Teachers Village, which relied heavily on the state Economic Development Authority and a long list of private-sector investors. The financing team included high-profile names such as Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group, Prudential Financial and Nicolas Berggruen, the founder and president of Berggruen Holdings and the Berggruen Institute, along with several others.
“Teachers Village is a model of holistic community development offering every convenience people could wish for today,” said Melissa Orsen, CEO of the Economic Development Authority. “This project exemplifies the impact of investment and development centered around urban transit centers and the immeasurable long-term value of education.”
And for all its complexity, Teachers Village is only the first phase of a broader redevelopment program known as SoMa, short for south of Market Street. The master plan calls for more than 15 million square feet of development area across 23 acres in the neighborhood.
The speakers on Tuesday also touted the fact that Teachers Village has become a national model for community-minded development that is anchored by education. Beit said the complex has drawn teachers from Atlanta and elsewhere in the country, who are now residents and employees of the newly built charter schools.
Of the more than 300 residents in Teachers Village, 70 percent of them are educators, Beit said. The schools within the project are now home to more than 1,000 students.
U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, who was the city’s mayor when the development was first conceived, also touted the fact that “this project was done the right way.”
“We insisted on apprenticeship programs for our youth, local entrepreneurs to be involved, labor being done by Newark residents,” Booker said. “This is really a testimony to the values we have and I just want to say thank you to everybody.”
Designed by Richard Meier and KSS Architects, Teachers Village also includes a daycare center, gardens and recreational areas for tenants and students. Its construction team included Hollister Construction Services and Phelps Construction Group.
The financing team also included the city of Newark, the Newark Community Economic Development Corp., Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, TD Bank, New Jersey Community Capital, National Community Investment Trust, AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust, Deutsche Bank, Chase, Carver Federal Savings Bank and Community Development Entity Inc. Other investments came from BRT Apartments Corp., Frederick Iseman and CI Capital Partners and Warren Lichtenstein and Steel Partners Ltd.
“We say this a lot, but this was truly a village that took a village to build,” Beit said.