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A fresh start: In Newark, developers see demand for new units

Joe Portelli, vice president of development, RPM Development Group.
Joe Portelli, vice president of development, RPM Development Group. - ()

It was late April when RPM Development marked the opening of its newest apartment building in downtown Newark, known as 60 Nevada, but roughly half of its 75 units had already been leased by the time executives and city officials gathered for the ceremonial ribbon-cutting. If you ask Joe Portelli, that came as no surprise.

“That’s not uncommon for Newark,” said Portelli, vice president of development at the Montclair-based firm. “There’s a tremendous demand for high-quality affordable units here. … A lot of people come from nearby, people who are in town looking to upgrade their housing. And I think that you’ll find that there’s a lot of affordable housing in Newark, but the difference is quality that’s safe, that’s clean.”

It’s a niche that has allowed RPM to spend more than two decades building in the state’s largest city, which is part of one of its core markets in urban Essex County. The firm has developed sites downtown and in the neighborhoods, Portelli said, noting, “It’s been nice to see Newark grow and change over the years for the better.”

Ensuring it continues to be part of that growth, RPM marked the opening of 60 Nevada on April 27 by simultaneously breaking ground for an adjacent building. The mixed-use property, known as 999 Broad, will include 87 affordable and market-rate rentals; it will occupy 6,500 square feet of ground-floor retail and will create a component that will front on Newark’s central business district when it opens as soon as next summer.

The projects will account for a combined $42 million worth of development, bringing new life to a site that housed a blighted, abandoned underground parking garage formerly used by the U.S. Postal Service. And they’re helping transform another piece of a neighborhood that has still grappled with drugs and other crime in recent years despite its proximity to the downtown and other new development.

Built with a mix of public and private financing sources, 60 Nevada is a sleek four-story building designed by Inglese Architecture & Engineering. Its units range from one to three bedrooms, including stainless steel, Energy Star appliances and high-end finishes.

“Design is important to us, because you shouldn’t be able to tell the difference between what’s unrestricted market-rate and what’s affordable,” Portelli said during a recent tour of the property.

The U-shaped building also includes a community room that hosts fitness classes, financial education and other components of RPM’s social service program, along with computers and locally sourced artwork. Outside the second-floor space is an 8,000-square-foot terrace that is carved out of the building, overlooked by the units on the upper floors.

And RPM has rehabilitated the former USPS garage to provide some 200 covered, secured parking spaces for tenants at 60 Nevada and 999 Broad. It’s another value add.

“We try to liven the neighborhood and get rid of some of the things that have been bringing it down,” Portelli said. “So it often represents a fresh start for people looking to build a new home and a new life.”

Despite the challenges of building in urban settings, RPM has an established history in Newark and other cities. The firm in recent years has opened Richardson Lofts and Studebaker Lofts, a combined 135 mixed-income units around Broad Street, along with a series of other projects beyond the downtown.

And Portelli noted that when those mixed-income sites opened, the market-rate units went faster than the affordable component.

"So there's a demand not just for affordable, but a range of income levels," he said. "People are looking for high quality at good value and we're able to do that in Newark."

The courtyard at 60 Nevada, an affordable housing development in Newark.
The courtyard at 60 Nevada, an affordable housing development in Newark. - (Photo / )

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