By Joshua Burd
It wasn’t long after its founding in 1956 that Edison Properties expanded into New York City, now home to the lucrative self-storage business that makes up the biggest piece of its portfolio.
But Jerry Gottesman never lost sight of the fact that it all began in Newark.
“He felt that Newark had ‘done good’ by him and that he should do good by Newark,” said Tom Banker, a longtime friend and consultant to Edison Properties. “So he stayed for all of the years when most people did not stay and he insisted on keeping his headquarters in Newark.”
Gottesman, the co-founder and chairman of Edison Properties, died Sunday at age 87, more than 60 years after he and his late brother opened the company’s first parking lot just east of Newark Penn Station. A family representative said Gottesman died of natural causes, leaving behind a portfolio that includes millions of square feet and a lasting impact on the state’s largest city.
With well-known brands such as Edison ParkFast and Manhattan Mini Storage, the Newark native was legendary for having held onto his properties for decades rather than selling them for new development, especially as real estate values rose around the firm’s portfolio. He was also famously at the center of the complicated land swap that gave way to what is now the Prudential Center, pushing to have the arena built a few blocks away from Newark Penn Station rather than directly adjacent to it.
Gottesman had argued that forcing people to walk through the city’s downtown would ultimately lead to more of a ripple effect on the surrounding area and create better value for property owners, including Edison Properties. Those plans were slow to take shape, but are now moving forward a decade after the opening of the arena, after he and other stakeholders reached an agreement last year to create a sprawling park and mixed-use development at what had remained a sea of parking lots.
Edison Properties has since kicked off an $80 million project to convert a historic warehouse along McCarter Highway into more than 400,000 square feet of modern, loft-style office space. Dubbed Ironside Newark, the project is the first piece of what will become known as Mulberry Commons, which will include a pedestrian bridge long favored by Gottesman that will connect the city’s Ironbound section to the downtown.
“Jerry was the most civic-minded developer of anybody I ever met or worked with,” said Banker, president of the Banker Group LLC. “Jerry always was concerned about the effect that his decisions, his investments, his developments would have on the overall well-being of the community where he was working.
“He truly believed that a rising tide carries all boats and that if what he wanted to do wasn’t going to be to the general betterment of that community, then it wasn’t going to be to his benefit in the long run, that he had to do things that made places better and that would both be good business but also good karma,” Banker added. “It would create larger value than just the value associated with Edison Properties.”
Gottesman and his brother Harold launched the parking business in 1956 at the site of what had been an old factory building on Edison Place. They grew the company by luring customers with a rate of 50 cents per day, while scouring both Newark and Manhattan for additional sites and parking facilities that they could buy or take under management.
Edison would expand into the self-storage business in the mid-1970s, an idea Gottesman got while driving home through Norfolk, Virginia. It is now the biggest piece of its business and one of several divisions of a firm that also includes the Hippodrome office building in Midtown and an early co-working concept called WorkSpace.
“Jerry’s foresight on real estate trends was unmatched, not only among peers going back decades when he pioneered vertical self-storage, but even in recent years as contemplated ways to up the ante on the co-location workspace phenomenon,” said Ted Zangari, the co-chair of the real estate law practice at Sills Cummis & Gross PC. “Scientists tinker in laboratories. Jerry tinkered with urban redevelopment, green building, historic preservation and smart growth experiments on the surface parking lots he owned and operated.
“He will be missed, especially in the city of Newark to which he was deeply committed through good times and bad.”
Gottesman, a philanthropist who was especially focused on causes related to Newark and the Jewish community, died Sunday while visiting Jerusalem, according to a statement from his family. He will be buried in New Jersey.
“We will miss Jerry dearly and deeply appreciate all that he has done for Edison Properties during his lifetime,” the company said in a statement issued Monday morning. “This business is his legacy and we are all honored to have been able to work with him and learn from him. While his presence and influence will be missed, the company will continue to operate as usual and continue to focus on honoring his memory.”
Other industry leaders offered their praise after learning the news.
“Although I never did business with Jerry, I enjoyed many meetings which we had on Friday mornings at my office in Morristown,” said Jon F. Hanson, chairman of The Hampshire Cos. “The conversation centered around family and the ownership of real estate. Jerry was a visionary and his real estate portfolio is a testament to that vision.”
Banker, who said he had “gone very few days over the last 18-plus years when I didn’t talk to Jerry,” said Gottesman often had him working on projects that had little or even no direct upside to Edison Properties. At the heart of such projects was that Gottesman “was very attached to the city of Newark.”
In fact, as the long-awaited plans around the Prudential Center finally started to move forward in recent months, Banker said Gottesman was especially gratified as his firm got to work on the adaptive reuse of the former warehouse building. That was despite the fact that the project essentially calls for building a large block of speculative office space, which has become unheard of in the state in recent years.
“He was thrilled that the park and the bridge were finally going to happen and he was thrilled to be able to get his company to commit to getting the (Ironside Newark) building rehabilitated on a purely speculative basis,” Banker said. “Show me somebody who’s willing to take on 400,000 square feet, $80 million of pure spec in New Jersey.
“But Jerry went and told his family: ‘This is part of our commitment.’ ”
Below are excerpts from the statement issued by Edison Properties on Monday:
Jerry is survived by Paula Rachlin Gottesman, his wife of 55 years. Paula, a retired attorney, played an active role as Jerry’s most influential and trusted advisor in their shared business and philanthropic endeavors.
In addition to his wife, Jerry is survived by four daughters, 17 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Jerry and Paula have been actively involved in various philanthropic initiatives over their lifetime and have deeply valued the act of giving back to their community. They have shaped the present and future of their local Jewish community in New Jersey and created national model programs that have transformed the fields of Jewish day school education and Jewish camps across North America.
This has included the creation of financial assistance programs, grants and significant endowments to enable access to quality Jewish day school education across their home community in Northern New Jersey. In addition, the Gottesmans made a significant gift to build a new school building and expanded campus for the Gottesman RTW Academy (the former Hebrew Academy of Morris County) and brought to their home community a program called PJ Library, which provides free Jewish books and music to families with young children.
The Gottesmans also supported the creation of “Lifetown,” a center in Livingston, NJ that will serve individuals with special needs from around New Jersey. The family also contributed to a research program at Johns Hopkins University which creates innovative approaches to treating neurofibromatosis (NF1).
Finally, over the past 15 years, the Edison Properties Newark Foundation has contributed generously to dozens of grass roots and established charitable organizations in Newark, New Jersey. The foundation focuses on supporting organizations involved with arts and culture, education, human services, and community development.