I recently reconnected with an college buddy who I hadn’t seen in 10+ years until a few weeks ago. He – David – works at Brick City Development Corp, which is Newark’s economic development arm (see: http://bcdcnewark.org). Given my work with GSP and his work at BCDC we had much to chat about and he invited me out to Newark for a tour. So yesterday I hopped on the Path at World Trade Center and headed to Brick City, which by the way is a straight-shot 20 minute train ride from WTC. Easier to get to Newark from Wall Street area than getting to most of Upper Manhattan, Queens and much of Brooklyn. Seriously.
Dave met me at the train station and we immediately headed southeast to the “Ironbound” n’hood. This neighborhood has a relatively large Portuguese population, so it was fitting that we hit a great little Portuguese BBQ joint for lunch. It was at this point that I knew I was in very good hands for the day.
We ate with a colleague of Dave’s from BCDC and a local developer >> BBQ chicken, salad, fries, rice & beans — excellent. This place did it right. From Ironbound Dave and I walked west to the central business district and began a 2.5 hour meander northbound through Newark’s downtown core stopping at a slew of parking lots (that could be much more than parking lots), new developments (like Teacher’s Village) and amazing old buildings (see pic below).
There are some gorgeous buildings in Newark. Interestingly though, Dave was telling me some of them are vacant on floors 2 and up… Stunning. The beauties below have few, if any, tenants above the ground floor.
We continued on to Military Park, where Dan Biederman and his team from Biederman Redevelopment Ventures (the mastermind behind Bryant Park) is doing his thing, and then turned west at the NJ Performing Arts Center; heading back towards the train station with a detour past Rutgers, NJIT and a big hole in the ground that will soon be Prudential’s new world HQ. Dave and I split up for the day back on Market Street, where he wisely suggested I take a walk through Gateway Center to get a feel for this very different part of Newark.
Gateway Center is a cluster of four appox 500,000 SF office buildings (and a Hilton Hotel) that sits right in the middle of Newark’s downtown. The buildings are connected on the second floor by a string of pedestrian skywalks that, by design, keep the many thousands of employees off the street. And these skywalks effectively kill the street life around this huge complex. It’s terrible. The walkway felt like a hybrid between a really bad strip mall and the San Juan, PR airport. Check out these pics:
The fact there there are buildings like the “beauties” above vacant and this Gateway Center place is, according to the security guard I spoke to, “pretty full” is too bad. And it’s a major issue for Newark’s downtown. But despite Newark’s issues, I loved being there and walking around with Dave. He’s a great booster for the City and by 3:30pm I was definitely drinking the Kool-aide. The City has a lot going for it: (1) incredible rail system connecting it to the region (Path, NJ Transit, light-rail and Amtrak); (2) great arts and entertainment venues; (3) good universities; (4) major international airport; (5) lots of diversity; (6) a slew of interesting and very different n’hoods; (7) lots of diverse real estate in different shapes and sizes; (8) thousands of employees who work at places like the US District Court, Prudential, Panasonic, Rutgers, NJIT, etc; (9) improving parks and public spaces both in the City’s downtown and on the river; and (10) history; to name a few.
So yeah, Newark. Keep an eye on it. I will be.