Newark Mayor Ras Baraka was happy to take a half-dozen journalists on a tour of Newark, detailing insights of the city’s proposal to Amazon for its HQ2 headquarters, including the locations of four spots it said could easily handle Amazon’s ultimate request of 8 million square feet of real estate.
From the area surrounding Mulberry Commons, to two spots on the waterfront (one by Newark Penn Station and one near the Broad Street Station) to one in the Halsey Street area officials called SoMa, or South of Main, Newark felt it offered Amazon a number of options.
More than anything, Baraka said, the proposal showed Newark is a legitimate contender for the massive project that is coveted by cities across North America.
“Hopefully, we get them to the table and get them to see that we’re serious about what we’re trying to do here,” he said. “That’s important. We didn’t send a cactus over there, we didn’t build a big Amazon billboard or do all the craziness (that others) have been doing.
“What we’ve done is say that we’re serious about it, we’ve parceled the land together, we put all the corporations together and we put our money where our mouth is and said this is what we’re willing to do for you to come to the table. If they come to the table, then we negotiate all these things and figure it out. But we have to show them that we mean business, that this is not a joke, that Newark is not in there for the circus just to say, ‘We’re vying for Amazon.’”
Baraka was joined on the tour by key leaders of his economic development team: Deputy Mayor Carmelo Garcia, Newark Community Economic Development Corp. CEO and President Aisha Glover and CEDC Vice President Jorge Santos.
In its RFP, Amazon said it needed 500,000 square feet of space available immediately (what is being called Phase I) and the ability to add 8 million more square feet quickly (Phase II and Phase III).
Newark’s bid addressed both requirements.
For Phase I, the bid said three areas are available, citing nearly 700,000 square feet in Gateway Center, as well as 350,000 square feet at 520 Broad St. and 250,000 square feet at 33 Washington St.
Glover said developers and building owners throughout the city were eager to make space available to assist on the project.
“We really had a lot of existing property owners and developers saying, ‘We’ll switch up our plans if we’re building new, and, if we’re already in this site, we’d be willing to condense or relocate in order to accommodate, because they see the value of having an Amazon as an anchor,” she said. “I feel like we all casually throw around the term game-changer, but everybody genuinely sees how this could be a game-changer for the city of Newark.”
She noted 520 Broad St., currently used by IDT.
“They have pretty significant vacancy in the building,” she said. “In addition to the fact that they have vacancy, they are ready, willing and able to relocate and move out to allow Amazon to be able to move in.”
Glover noted Newark is giving Amazon a lot of options to meet its space needs.
The four proposed campus sites combine to be nearly 20 million square feet, she said.
“What we wanted to do was pull together a menu of options for Amazon, where they can pick one site or multiple sites,” she said. “It can be spread out across a campus-like environment or be connected with a community.
“It really depends upon the vibe they want to create, quite frankly, for their workforce.”
Amazon obviously would change the skyline of the city. In what way, Glover said, is up to the company.
“There are some renderings that may look like a skyscraper or may look spread out,” she said, noting city regulations allow buildings to be up to 20 stories in the city, but up to 40 by the waterfront.
Those regulations, Newark officials added, could change with Amazon.
They view Amazon as a way to change the geographic face of the city.
“For us to be the largest city in the state and you don’t see … the residential density, but the building height that you would expect to see from a major city, is something that we are trying to address because that’s going to increase the economic impact, increase the number of residents in the city,” she said.
“This is very much part of what we are trying to do more broadly. We’re increasing the density down here and trying to work toward something that looks like a more active downtown.”
Newark officials said their proposal to Amazon addressed a number of key issues:
Tech talent: “(It is) one of the things that Audible has been touting in trying to lure Amazon and others here long before the RFP came out,” Glover said. “They’ve been really promoting and touting the high concentration of SDEs, software design engineers, that they’ve been able to tap into while they’ve been in here.”
Internet speed: “We’ve kind of glossed over this, but the data infrastructure is unmatched in the world,” Glover said. “It’s the fastest internet in the world. And for a tech company to be able to leverage that, that’s really hard to match.”
Housing: The city said it has five hotels on the way and has enough residential housing to easily meet Amazon’s wish to have 10 percent of its workforce live within walking distance of the company headquarters. “With each site, we were able to demonstrate that, based upon what is already in the pipeline, not what would be included in the new development,” Glover said.
Higher ed: Newark’s bid detailed how there are more than 50,000 students and faculty in Newark each day and that the area produces more than 100,000 graduates annually, many of whom have computer science and technology-type degrees.
Quality of life: The city not only touted the Prudential Center and New Jersey Performing Arts Center, but all of the other food, entertainment and culture offerings it has. “We were able to take about all the amenities in the city, both what’s here and what’s planned,” Glover said.
Baraka, Garcia, Glover and Santos all expressed confidence in Newark’s ability to land Amazon based on what they city can offer.
“It sounds self-serving, but for us, it felt very textbook,” Glover said. “That, yes, we’re checking each and every box you want and more. There’s essentially no reason for them not to come.”
Garcia said the city has matched its proposal with the RFP and likes what is sees.
“We’ve narrowed it down, looking at predictive analytics with what it is they’re looking at to really make a decision,” he said. “If you study their model as to their site selection approach, I think we have a really strong favorable approach.”
Here’s a quick look at the four proposed sites, all of which city officials said would be available for a 2018 groundbreaking:
The park that will connect the Prudential Center to Newark Penn Station — one already anchored by the Ironside building that will feature Mars Wrigley Confectionery as an anchor tenant — will get a face lift with a number of tall buildings surrounding the 3-acre park.
“Part of the agreement to build Mulberry Commons was for the developers, J&L (Properties) and Edison (Properties), to build out their sites vertically, so we achieve critical mass so the downtown can … (have) that mix of live, learn, work, play,” Garcia said. “That’s what you’ll see around here. This will be our very own Central Park and pretty much around it will be these vertical mixed-use properties.”
In total, there are 15.5 acres available.
It’s the smallest parcel of land, just 5.6 acres, but it will be developed along the waterfront by James Corner, who developed New York City’s now famous High Line.
“It ties in beautifully, because this is where we are doing the major riverfront project,” Garcia said. “It’s 17 acres and 3 miles long.”
The area, owned by Matrix Development, would be connected to Mulberry Commons on the other end of the train station.
“Matrix was proposing a hotel, two residential buildings and one commercial,” Garcia said. “They’ve changed that up and offered to build out for Amazon’s purpose for Phase II.”
The 11.8-acre site would replace the existing baseball stadium. It would connect Amazon to the Broad Street Station area, and has potentially 2,000 residential units.
“There has been a lot of stimulus to this corridor,” Garcia said. “We look at it as a tech corridor, because you have IDT, Audible, Cablevision.”
The properties to be used are owned by Lotus Equity Group.
“They assembled the Lincoln Motel site … and they put that together with Bears Stadium,” Garcia said.
This would be the most city-centric of the four proposals, as the 8.9 acres available are tucked in with a lot of other recent activity, including Halsey Street redevelopment, the Hahne’s building and Teachers Village.
It is owned by RBH Group.
“What has been significant about the corridor is that it’s been a really good balance of small, locally owned businesses,” Glover said, noting the renewed vibrancy and quality of life in the area.
Will all of this be enough for Amazon to pick Newark?
Glover feels the city has made its case, not just in real estate but in the ability to change the face of an area.
“No one has everything,” she said. “Everybody has a little bit of something. And then the broader piece is kind of the social imperative, that moral imperative. There are a few cities that can say that, but they don’t have all the business and technical (offerings) in the same way that Newark does.
“So, we generally do not feel like we have any competition. There are some people who have done maybe a slightly better job at marketing, but that’s all marketing.
“For a company of their size that’s really concerned about reputational value, they can make a statement with a move to a city like Newark.”