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Economic Development in Uncertain Times

Newark’s business community faces challenges head on.

From start-ups and entrepreneurs to Newark’s corporate giants, the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged the city’s business community. Newark was demonstrating momentum and optimism on the road to continued redevelopment and bigger and better things for the city as 2020 began. 

Will the pandemic change that trajectory? The resilience and determination of Newark’s business leaders representing a remarkable spectrum of talent and innovation provide hope on the path to better days for the city and its stakeholders. Brokers are seeing signs that some companies may choose to open an office closer to home, either reducing or eliminating a Manhattan address. 

In July, Mayor Ras J. Baraka showcased Newark Municipal Council approval for what will be the city’s largest residential apartment tower as evidence that development in Newark continues to accelerate despite the pandemic. A 30-year tax abatement will help finance the project at 777 McCarter Highway, to be built by Boraie Development, LLC, and NBA legend/developer Shaquille O’Neal that will feature 370 apartments on 32 stories with 74 of them designated as affordable housing. O’Neal will live in one of the building’s penthouses.  

“At nearly every council meeting, we are introducing new housing development and rehabilitation in Newark ranging from high rise apartment buildings to single family homes,” Mayor Baraka says. “Housing construction in Newark continues to be guided by our commitment to equitable growth — creating more home ownership, more places to live that residents can afford, and more minority and women contractors to participate in the rebirth of our neighborhoods.”  

These housing/development advances came on the same day that the city held a virtual town hall to inform residents about the details of a proposal to build a massive development on the South Orange Avenue site of the former Pabst Blue Ribbon brewery. Developers will build 660 residential units, 20 percent of them affordable, ground-floor retail space, 665 below-ground parking spaces, a daycare center, two gyms, a library-like space with common work area and conference rooms, a basketball court, community rooms, and other amenities. 

Transformative changes to some of downtown Newark’s most iconic buildings are adding to the positive energy still to be found in the city. 

Since purchasing One, Two and Four Gateway Center in 2018, Onyx Equities, LLC has been reimagining the landmark complex. In addition to its investment in the property, Onyx relocated its business headquarters to Gateway and has launched plans focused on reinvention and reimagination of what Gateway can and should be. 

“Our vision has always included a plan to turn the concourse inside-out,” John Saraceno, Jr., co-founder and managing principal for Onyx Equities, LLC, notes. “The days of isolation and separation from the streets of Newark are over for the Gateway Center.” 

“The pandemic and the months since the shutdown have given us time to challenge theories we applied during the design phase, that is, activation of the concourse and the street levels of Gateway One and Four,” Saraceno adds. “But after months of debate and discussions, we are more convinced than ever that these improvements are necessary to make Gateway and Newark the modern epicenter of commercial office space in New Jersey. 

“There’s been lots of talk about changing demand and requirements for the post-pandemic occupant and some of it may be true, but I believe it is incumbent on owners like Onyx to create a situation that makes our tenants feel safe and secure,” Saraceno continues. “The commercial real estate developers, business leaders and educational and cultural institutions in Newark are all committed to the city’s long-term success.”  

“We have established an ecosystem that is rooted in the spirit of collaboration and resource pooling that can be nimble to the unique challenges that business owners faced long before COVID-19,” Newark Alliance CEO Aisha Glover says. “Through existing corporate and institutional partnerships, Mayor Baraka and the city’s leadership are working tirelessly to create and increase support to ensure that all players in the city’s economy have a fighting chance, especially those disproportionally impacted. We’ve invested a lot over the past few years and want to ensure that our trajectory and impact outlasts the effects of the pandemic.” 

Della M. Walker, Jr., director of Newark Alliance’s Newark 2020 initiative, says the Alliance’s priorities and value proposition have only been strengthened during this current climate. “The need to bring in resources, to leverage the collective impact of the corporate and institutional community, attract investments, and mobilize private and public stakeholders has proven invaluable,” she says. 

To support economic and workforce development, Newark 2020, the local hiring initiative led out of the Alliance, is focusing on ensuring Newark residents are upskilled to meet the demands of working remotely and building virtual teams as they join with anchor partners to identify career opportunities for Newark residents facing unemployment as a result of the pandemic. 

In response to the shift to virtual delivery of services and the need for companies to operate remotely, Newark 2020 launched an eight-week Virtual Career Coaching Series and Virtual Career Fair. Employer partners including Audible, RWJBarnabas Health, Horizon, and University Hospital participated in the career fair to identify local talent for open roles. More than 300 job seekers and 20 employers registered for the event. 

Entrepreneur Adenah Bayoh was a West African refugee seeking a better life when she came to Newark more than 25 years ago. Since then, she has built a mini empire of restaurants, including IHOP pancake house locations in Newark, Irvington and Paterson, as well as Cornbread restaurants in Maplewood and a new location in Newark across from City Hall serving farm-to-table soul food cuisine. 

Bayoh is also the developer of 915 Broad Street, the new five-story, 84-unit, mixed-use, mixed-income building that her restaurant will call home. She notes that while it has been a difficult time for all of her businesses and has had to put some of her expansion plans on hold, she is still pushing forward and adapting. 

“I’m proud that this building is helping to continue Newark’s renaissance in spite of the pandemic. The educational and community support I received in Newark contributed to where I am today,” Bayoh adds. “A primary reason I focus my businesses in cities like Newark is so the residents of these communities are provided with high quality services and attainable, well-paying jobs close to home. So yes, I would recommend this city as a place for minority and women-owned entrepreneurs to consider.”  

“The full business effects of the pandemic on cities like Newark may not be known for years,” Barbara E. Kauffman, NRBP executive vice president and COO, points out. “While many employers have adjusted well to remote working in the short term, we don’t yet know how many of those jobs will remain virtual or brought back to offices for purposes of productivity, planning and collaboration. Restaurants and other retailers have been hit hard by the public health restrictions that have cost them their customers and, in some cases, their businesses. 

“While the road back for many enterprises will be challenging, Newark still maintains the strengths that had it poised for continued revitalization pre-pandemic: extensive transportation infrastructure, fast internet, proximity to talent, proud residents, committed corporate and civic partners, higher education, arts and entertainment, and more,” Kauffman concludes. “There may be a slight detour, but there’s plenty of reason to believe Newark’s progress will continue.”

To access more business news, visit NJB News Now.

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