Downtown Newark, Yes Newark, Will Be The Next Big Thing

Spend a few hours walking around downtown Newark and you will soon discover that big things are happening.  Things that might finally transform this long-blighted city into a highly desirable place to live, work, dine and shop.

Start your tour on Halsey Street, just one block behind the office towers on Broad.  On one end you have the new Teachers Village rising from the ground at a rapid pace.  This $150-million development will have eight buildings, three charter schools, more than 200 apartments for teachers and 70,000 square feet of street-level retail and restaurant space. Further down Halsey, Brooklyn-based Elbow Room recently opened a hip new dining spot, a type of place that would rarely, if ever, open in Newark just a few years ago.  Across from Elbow Room is the massive Hahnes-Griffith project located next door to a new tower being built by Prudential.  Yes its transformation from department store to residential lofts and retail has been much delayed, but the Hahnes-Griffith lofts will be spectacular once they are completed.

There are already a number of residential conversions happening all over downtown, and demand has been exceeding supply.  The Packard Lofts on Broad Street are fully rented.  So are the RockPlaza Lofts near the Prudential Center.  Richardson Lofts, a former jewelry factory two blocks from Prudential Center, opened with much interest last summer. Eleven80, located on Raymond Boulevard, is a larger scale high-rise office conversion that has been attracting upscale renters.

Gentrification can happen slowly, especially in Newark which was so devastated by the riots of the late 1960’s and the suburban exodus that soon followed.  An entire generation of New Jerseyans grew up being told to avoid Newark and head straight to Manhattan, Hoboken or Jersey City.

But the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) and the Prudential Center sports arena are bringing people back to downtown Newark after dark, changing the whole dynamic of the city.

People are starting to wake up to the fact that New Jersey has a “big-time” city right in its own back yard.  This is a city with a vibrant past, with historic buildings, boulevards and architecture.  A city with colleges and universities, high-tech office space, and an increasing number of restaurants, bars, concerts and sporting events lighting up the night.  And Newark has a top-notch transportation system that allows for easy travel within the city and around the region.

Panasonic has noticed.  They decided recently to leave their present location in Secaucus and move their 800 employees and North American headquarters to a shiny new glass building rising on McCarter Highway. Philadelphia developer Dranoff Properties has noticed too.  They are about to break ground for One Theater Square, a $110 million, 25-story, 250-unit rental apartment building with 20,000 square feet of retail on a parking lot across NJPAC’s public plaza.

For those with a pioneering spirit and vision, now is the time to invest in downtown Newark.  Home prices in Newark are still much lower than Hoboken and Jersey City, but that could change quickly. Newark saw its first population increase in 60 years when the 2010 census was released. And Mayor Cory Booker recently claimed that Newark was responsible for 30% of New Jersey’s real estate development in 2012.  30%!!

Investing in downtown Newark is not for the faint of heart.  Crime is still an issue, and the Newark school system is among the lowest-performing in the state.   But Hoboken was similarly described in the 1960’s, when its’ manufacturing and shipping industries abandoned the city for larger and more modern locations.  Housing in Hoboken started to look rundown, real estate values plummeted as residents flocked to the suburbs, and vacant storefronts became a common site.   But savvy investors understood that Hoboken’s underpinnings were still strong – its location on the Hudson waterfront, transportation into NYC, great architectural detail – and snapped up some of its best real estate at bargain prices in the late 1970’s and early ‘80’s.  Some of those brownstones purchased in Hoboken in the early ‘80’s are worth millions today!

Downtown Newark’s underpinnings are strong too.  And the parallels to Hoboken in the early ‘80’s are striking.  Investors, speculators and developers are all circling the city, looking to get in early on the renaissance. Which is why we think downtown Newark will be the next big thing.

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