Two Center Street

When Lawrence P. Goldman cut the ribbon on the New Jersey Performing Arts Center 12 years ago, he gave people a reason to visit Downtown Newark after dark.

176

The $187 million arts center has been a magnet for developers, restaurateurs and even the New Jersey Devils ice hockey team, which moved into its new downtown arena, the Prudential Center, in March 2007.With Downtown Newark firmly on the map as an exciting place to visit, Goldman is taking the next step – building towards a big residential population downtown. “We are not thinking garden apartments or townhouses, we are thinking about a very dense residential development,” he said.

Goldman, who controls 12 state-owned acres, including the performing arts center site, under a 99-year ground lease, envisions an ensemble of buildings around Theater Square, the public square adjacent to NJPAC that was modeled after the Piazza Navona in Rome. He imagines three high-rise residential buildings with ground-level retail, a hotel, galleries, cafes and restaurants and a waterfront promenade along the Passaic River, all of which he hopes will enliven the square by day, just as the arts center performances and events stimulate night life in the area.

First out of the ground will be Two Center Street, a 41-story, $225 million mixed-use tower with 30,000 sq. ft. of retail, indoor parking and up to 300 apartment units, 20 percent of which will be set aside as affordable for local artists. Goldman thinks the project’s 1.2 acre parcel is the single best corner location in Newark because of its proximity to Military Park, NJPAC and a new light-rail station. It will house the first newly constructed apartment building in downtown Newark in more than four decades and likely the tallest structure in the city.

Out of a dozen developers who responded to an RFP issued by NJPAC, Dranoff Properties was chosen based on CEO Carl Dranoff’s reputation for pulling off complex urban developments.

“I’m a great believer that anyone can fool anyone in an interview, but you can’t fool anyone with the reputation in your career,” said Goldman, who will retain design control of the development.

As part of the agreement with NJPAC, Dranoff will get a long sublease on the property, for which he will pay an upfront lump-sum and annual rent that is partially based on residential and commercial revenue.

The developer said he was attracted to the project because of Newark’s high concentration of educational and medical facilities, its phenomenal light-rail transportation, substantial workday population and Booker’s leadership.

“Another huge advantage we see is the ability to leverage arts and culture for residential. NJPAC is the cultural arts center for northern New Jersey. Suburbanites drive into Newark, park and go to a performance. Our goal is to get them to stay in Newark, have dinner, shop and maybe even live there,” said Dranoff.

He anticipates the project won’t actually break ground until sometime in 2010, because construction capital has dried up in the current economic crisis. In the meantime, he and Goldman will work with the city and Bower Lewis Thrower Architects to complete nuts-and-bolts design work and planning.

“We recognize the realities of the current economic climate. We have been through economic cycles before and are confident that this too shall pass. When it does, we will be ready on Day One to build something that will continue to change perceptions about Newark,” said Dranoff.

Goldman expects the recent scorecard seal of approval from the Brick City Development Corp. will make it easier to secure financing and subsidies for Two Center Street, when the time comes.

Besides low income housing tax credits for the affordable units that will be available for income-qualified artists, the partnership is seeking support from the in-lieu-of taxes program and new market tax credits and will be working with the state of New Jersey, which has different subsidies available for urban development, said Dranoff.

“We see Two Center Street as a stimulus project. It will put a lot of people to work quickly in an area where development is consistent with the state’s plans to stop sprawl and focus development near public transportation. So this project is a good candidate for many forms of subsidy,” said Goldman.