Preservation, repurposing and innovation were the main themes at the Newark Regional Business Partnership’s Development “Plans Taking Shape” confab to discuss improvements planned for MLK Jr. Blvd. in Newark.
Reps from community organizations making the boulevard their home, such as NJIT and St. Michael’s Medical Center, showcased their previous and future work along MLK. Newer organizations, the Community Asset Preservation Corp. and Common, also previewed redevelopment plans at the Jan. 31 forum.
NRBP Chief Operating Officer Barbara Kauffman described MLK as one of the critical components of the city of Newark. Particularly, after the city was shortlisted for Amazon’s HQ2.
“We are in one of the best places the city has ever been in terms of the promising future,” she said. “(MLK Boulevard spans) a neighborhood that has been quieter, but there are some pretty exciting things about to happen there.”
NJIT’s Andrew Christ, vice president for real estate development and capital operation, and St. Michael’s Medical Center CEO Robert Iannaccone said their improvement projects reflect the boulevard’s importance to the city’s downtown.
For NJIT, the former Central High School building--now the $120 million, 211,000-square-foot Central King Building for research and teaching--is just one component of a larger $435 million redevelopment plan the university began in 2014.
“We really kind of turned our back to the community for a few years,” Christ said “We created a fortress in Newark. We said ‘We’re going to keep everything inside,’ and all the entrances to the buildings were in the interior of the campus. We’ve made a conscious decision to reverse that trend now, and the Central King building does just that. We opened that up with a glass front, we really opened ourselves to the community and looked across the street at Rutgers University Newark.”
He said the university plans engage MLK Blvd. with its Life Sciences Building; a $19 million project that currently fronts Summit Street, but can be expanded by 50,000 square feet towards the boulevard.
But Christ added that NJIT has even bigger plans along MLK.
“We really want to try to create a mixed-use neighborhood and really one of the best neighborhoods in Newark with proximity to the Broad Street train station, it makes every bit of sense to create a transit-oriented development,” he said “All our faculty need housing, our graduate students are looking for housing, but we really want to try to create that neighborhood business that has not been there in decades.”
NJIT in partnership with St. Michael’s Medical has put together a three-phase redevelopment plan that includes the demolition of 236-240 MLK Blvd., a warehouse owned by NJIT, and creating retail, market-rate housing, graduate student housing and parking.
And while Christ stressed Phase I of the project is still in its conceptual stage, he said it is likely to entail demolishing 236-240 MLK Blvd., and replacing it with a similar-looking structure that has nearly 1,300 square feet of retail space, 99 market-rate unites and 100 parking spaces.
“Phase II and Phase III are a little more nebulous, but again, we’re working towards that mixed-use development,” he said.
By contrast, St. Michael’s Medical, an MLK Blvd. resident since the 1880’s, has and continues to become a core center for Prime Healthcare in New Jersey, Iannaccone said.
When Prime Healthcare acquired the medical center through a sale from then-bankrupt Trinity Health in 2016, it also committed to investing $50 million in the community, most of which has been invested in the form of clinical care.
“One of the busiest programs that we have… is our cancer center,” he said. “We will be opening up next week a new LINAC, which is the latest in technology in terms of radiation oncology. The cancer center remains very busy coupled with a very busy women’s center.
“We’ve also, and this is one that I think is very important for people downtown, we’ve made substantial amounts of investment in emergency services.”
St. Michael’s has stayed active in the greater Newark community, too, Iannaccone said. The medical center has assumed student health services for its neighbor NJIT, is a care partner for the homeless with Bridges and has partnered with local senior housing communities to provide house-call services.
“Not only have we delivered a financial turnaround and quality turnaround of a very critical hospital in downtown Newark, but we’ve also had stay a part of the community,” Iannaccone said.
Nonprofit Community Asset Preservation is also hard at work along MLK Blvd. The 90,000-square-foot hospital building fronting MLK Blvd. that once housed St. Michael’s is set to become the first arts-based nonprofits and co-living space in the city.
Jeffrey Crum, the director of real estate for CAPC said his organization was motivated by the pricing out of nonprofits from the downtown as well as the preservation of the building.
“(This building) sits in a great location, but this is a neighborhood that has not seen a lot of renaissance yet,” he said. “It sits merely three blocks from the Broad Street train station, it sits four blocks from downtown. It sits at a nexus right next to the medical complex, NJIT, Rutgers and it is a prominent location. Central Avenue is a major thoroughfare. People are driving past this building day after day, year after year and have seen it sit vacant for so long. And I think it is casting the wrong light on what Newark is and what Newark has become.”
Crum said 40,000 square feet out of the 90,000 total square feet of what used to be hospital space will now be shared by three nonprofit organizations. The balance will be managed by co-living firm Common.
“Ninety-thousand square feet is just too much space for nonprofits and we realize we would never be able to finance it,” Crum said. “There is such a huge demand for housing in this area that we also recognize that this would be beneficial for the community. Not only medical students, recent graduates from NJIT, but also young professionals that may be priced out of the city. (Common) really enables us to get over 100 beds and 100 new residents in this community, which outside the college, has had very little in the way of housing investment over the past few decades. It’s a really unique, it’s a really creative model.
“We’re really excited about being able to bring this model to the development and it also helps subsidize the nonprofit. We would not be able to get the tax credits without the nonprofit space, but the residential is really a big drive in the economics of this property.”
CAPC expects the project to cost up to $20 million and will be using New Market tax credits and Historic tax credits to make the project feasible. The project is a coventure with Crawford Street Partners, Hanini and Hollister Construction.
The group acquired the building in January 2017 and anticipates to complete the nonprofit space by early 2019 with the residential space being delivered in spring 2019.
“We really think it will be a catalytic change for this neighborhood, but also really, preserve the heritage of the building,” Crum said.