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Whole Foods plan a boon to Newark's residential expansion hopes

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A rendering of the Whole Foods coming to downtown Newark, scheduled for completion in 2016.
A rendering of the Whole Foods coming to downtown Newark, scheduled for completion in 2016. - ()

Samer Hanini lives in downtown Newark, but he's always needed to get in his car to go grocery shopping.

That makes little sense to the Brick City-based developer, who believes "if you're living in a downtown, you should be within walking distance from a grocer."

Hanini's wish will come true by 2016, when Whole Foods will open its first location in Newark. Under a deal announced today, the organic and natural foods grocer will occupy the soon-to-be-restored Hahne & Co. building in the heart of the city's downtown.

The 29,000-square-foot space on Broad Street will anchor the planned rehabilitation of the iconic, 400,000-square-foot department store building, which closed some 25 years ago after operating for nearly a century. Hanini's firm, Hanini Group, is partnering with New York-based L&M Development Partners as lead developers.

The deal, first reported late Wednesday by the Wall Street Journal, is also a coup for Mayor Cory Booker, who has lobbied for years to bring the Austin-based chain to Newark. And Hanini said its decision validates the city's progress as a growing urban hub, following several years of high-profile development projects.

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"A Whole Foods is definitely the upper level of retailers," he said. For the city "as a whole, this is probably the stamp of approval that Newark can handle retailers of this caliber."

In recent months, officials have touted a goal of bringing 5,000 new residents to the city by 2017, and the city's construction pipeline contains thousands of residential units. The new grocery store will help meet a need for those new citizens, Hanini said.

He also said Newark will benefit from having another destination-style retailer that will draw visitors beyond the professionals, students and residents who are already there.

Hanini and L&M are developing the site with Regan Development Corporation and Crawford Street Partners, according to a news release.

The developers and city officials gathered today to announce the lease with funding partners Prudential Financial and Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group. All told, the Hahne's project will have more than 180 residential units, an underground parking garage, 80,000 square feet of commercial and community space and 50,000 square feet of street-level retail space in addition to Whole Foods.

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