Frank Giantomasi has been around Newark long enough to know about the daily ebb and flow of its central business district.
“Newark was never designed to have downtown living,” said Giantomasi, a partner with the law firm Genova, Burns, Giantomasi, Webster, which is based in the city. “It was a place where you came and worked — like downtown Manhattan — and you went home to your North Ward or your East Ward.”
But that’s something local officials and scores of business leaders hope to change with new residential development in the heart of the Brick City — and they believe that change is starting to take place.
That was one theme raised Tuesday from a panel of development insiders at the Newark Regional Business Partnership’s annual real estate forecast, which Giantomasi moderated.
Aided by powerful state incentive programs and momentum from commercial development, they said the city’s pipeline of housing projects is both growing and showing early signs of drawing new residents to its downtown.
Ron Beit, the lead developer of Newark’s mixed-use Teachers Village project, said the residential portion is “oversubscribed” with the teachers who make up its prospective renters. His development group recently held a lottery for the first 123 apartment units that are slated to open in the coming months, with another 91 scheduled to come online late this year.
The rental units are part of a five-block, $150 million project to transform a blighted neighborhood alongside downtown Newark, which also calls for new charter schools and 70,000 square feet of retail around Halsey Street. Beit’s RBH Group opened the first two buildings last summer, and they’re now home to four fully occupied schools, he said.
Whether new residents will come on a larger scale remains to be seen, but developers are optimistic. Wasseem Boraie, vice president of Boraie Development, said the firm is targeting about 12,000 of the 100,000 businesspeople who travel to Newark each day, with an eye toward empty-nesters and young single professionals.
“That’s going to be the primary market for market-rate residential,” said Boraie, whose New Brunswick-based firm is developing a 23-story apartment tower in the city. The $65 million project is expected to add 169 market-rate rental units and 8,500 square feet of retail to the neighborhood around the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.
The panelists also weighed the prospects of new retail coming to Newark and how the city’s revival will be impacted by new development in Harrison, which sits just across the Passaic River. But they also discussed how upcoming mayoral election will affect the market, which is transitioning from seven years of stable, pro-development leadership in City Hall under Cory Booker.
In particular, the city’s willingness to grant so-called PILOTS, or payments in lieu of taxes, has to continue to attract development, said Frank Ferruggia, a property tax attorney and partner at Newark-based McCarter & English.
“Hopefully PILOTs don’t become a political football, and the city continues to recognize that, so that all of the wonderful construction plans that are on the table, all of the potential projects, can become a reality,” he said.
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