There was no shortage of accolades for developer Ron Beit at a groundbreaking ceremony held today for the mixed-use Teachers Village project, in Newark. But only one of the compliments involved comparisons to both sled racing and a musical icon.
"(Beit is) the Alaskan husky dog of developers, the hardest-working man in all of development," Newark Mayor Cory Booker told attendees before turning to Beit himself. "Yes, I did say it — you are the James Brown of development."
While it marked the start of construction for Teachers Village, the morning ceremony on Halsey Street was as much about recognizing Beit's role in seeing the plan through an economic downturn and his efforts to secure financing for the $150 million project. Speakers at the packed ceremony also emphasized a broad range of contributions from the private sector, elected officials and public financing agencies like the Economic Development Authority.
Teachers Village will include three charter schools, a day care center, more than 200 apartments for Newark teachers and more than 70,000 square feet of retail space. The retail areas are expected to be open by summer 2013, while apartments are expected to open the following fall.
In an interview with NJBIZ after the ceremony, Beit heaped his own praise on the EDA, which has awarded the project a $39.5 million in Urban Transit Hub tax credit and other financing tools. Beit, whose firm, RBH Group, is the lead developer, said "without any one component, but especially without those tax credits, this project would not be."
The project was first approved in July 2010 for a $17.4 million tax credit. But as project costs increased, Beit was able to apply for a larger credit last month, because of an Urban Transit Hub amendment that allowed tax credits to finance a larger portion of residential project costs.
"These projects hinge on dollars, and these tax credits go to fill the gaps and make the difference," Beit said. "The changes in the regulations and increases have really been a function of them realizing that there is more of a gap that needs to be filled."
The groundbreaking was held as the EDA quickly approaches the $1.5 billion cap on tax credits that can be awarded under Urban Transit Hub. Earlier this week, state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) introduced a bill to raise the cap by another $1 billion.
Beit said today that continuing the program is essential because of the difficulty of developing New Jersey's urban cores. Teachers Village is the first phase of a larger plan to transform Newark's downtown, and Beit said he would consider applying for tax credits for future phases if the program is still available.
"When we conceptualize future buildings we hope that this program is still place, because we're not there yet where we think you can abandon the program," Beit said. "We're not there yet, where these markets can stand on their own."