Historic Groundbreaking For Newark’s Downtown

September 27, 2013
Shaquille O'Neal, who was born in Newark, returned to the city to break ground on an apartment building, the first of its kind in 50 years.

By David Cruz
NJ Today

Shaquille O’Neal was born in Newark 40 years ago and although he left in his early teens and then through college, he says the city never left him. Today he was there to break ground on a lasting symbol of that relationship — a 23-story, 169-unit market-rate apartment building on Rector Street, the first of its kind in half a century and further evidence that Newark’s reputation as a place for residential investment continues to grow.

“I don’t walk around saying, ‘Oh I can get this building for $200,000 then put a million into it and I can get this profit,” said O’Neal. “I’ve never done that. This is a historical building, you know. For me to be able to tell my kids I was the first one to be able to build a highrise in 50 years in Newark, you know, things like that are more important to me.”

For O’Neal’s corporate partners, that’s a wonderful sentiment, but they’re primarily bottom line minded businessmen. Still, they share one thing — they’re all bullish on Newark.

“It’s an investment; so we obviously expect to be paid back with interest,” said Omeed Sathe, VP of Social Investments for Prudential. “We think we can invest here because the market’s growing, the market’s strong. There’s demand throughout New Jersey obviously for urban places. We think Newark is poised at a great moment with lots of investments. The company’s building its own new tower nearby. In many ways that’s the same kind of investment, just a much larger version.”

O’Neal and his partners — New Brunswick-based Boraie Development — were behind last year’s reboot of the multiplex on Springfield Avenue, a project many thought was dead in the water. Company founder Omar Boraie says he’s gotten used to beating expectations.

“We came here seven years ago and we saw. Newark is like a big huge piece of diamond covered with lots of mud over the years,” said Boraie. “Needs somebody to just clean this and make it a beautiful city. We have several projects in the city and we’re just honored to be here.”

The project is expected to cost around $61 million and benefited from a $24 million Urban Transit Hub tax grants from the state’s Economic Development Authority and tax breaks from the city. It’s money well spent, says Councilman Darrin Sharif, whose Central Ward is benefiting the most from all this new development action.

“It’s not just for the people who will come and live down here, but residents. You know there’s a study, and I think the mayor alluded to it, there was a study that showed half a billion dollars leaves our city for goods and services that we can’t provide,” said Sharif. “So when we have the apartments, on the ground floor, we have the retail, and that combination is only a plus for the city.”

This building was originally constructed in 1860 by the Ballantine Brewing Company and most recently served as the home for science high school. It is a historic building that is now poised to become a powerful symbol of the city’s future.