Cities on the downside always talk about their glorious past.
Cities with no present always talk about their hopes for the future.
But cities that are rolling talk about their past, present and future.
Such is now the case with Newark — and that was on full display last Tuesday at the topping-off ceremony for One Rector Street, the first market-value residential high-rise in the city in more than 50 years.
For Wasseem Boraie, vice president of Boraie Development, One Rector Street illustrates the current state of the city.
It’s not just the 22 stories, 168 rental units totaling 284,000 square feet and the 7,000 square feet of retail at the street level of the $79 million building, it’s the area surrounding it all that tells the story, Boraie said.
“Things are happening in this neighborhood because of the new supply generated by Prudential’s office building, Whole Foods and (the New Jersey Performing Arts Center),” he said. “Look at everything around here — all of the places you can walk to.
“They are places people want to go.”
Gov. Phil Murphy couldn’t agree more.
“This is a pretty special day for Newark and New Jersey, yet another piece of evidence that this city is on the rise, let there be no doubt about it,” he said. “And (Newark) is well off the mat. This is a city that has a trajectory that is undeniable.
“As I said many times as a candidate, in transition and now as governor, in so many respects, as our big urban centers go, first and foremost, as Newark goes, so goes the great state of New Jersey.”
It wasn’t always that way.
The event started with a few remarks from Margaret Anadu, a managing director for the Urban Investment Group at Goldman Sachs.
She talked about her first trip to the city, when Goldman Sachs was looking for investment possibilities.
“We started looking in this city and wanted to be part of its turnaround, probably about 12 years ago,” she said. “I went to a movie theater. As part of our diligence, we spend time, block by block, every street, every community anchor.
“The movie theater was in terrible shape. You could barely see the movie, you couldn’t get popcorn, it just wasn’t great.”
The city had been that way for a while.
Basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal was born and spent many of his early years in Newark.
He told the crowd a story about making a trip back to the city around the time he first started playing pro ball.
His mother, he said, put an idea in his head.
“Me and my mother were visiting some relatives, and my mother said to me, ‘I remember when this city used to be beautiful. Somebody needs to come by and invest in the city and make it beautiful again,’” he said.
“And then she gave me that big elbow to the chest, like I’m that somebody.”
More than a decade later, around the time his career was winding down, O’Neal connected with the Boraie family — “the Kobe Bryant of development,” he called them — to make good on the idea of rebuilding Newark.
Together, they created the CityPlex 12 Newark, a complex of new movie theaters that opened on Springfield Avenue in 2012.
It marked the first project in the city for Goldman Sachs. And it made a big impact on a lot of people.
“It’s a small project, (about $10 million),” Anadu said. “What it taught us is it that you want to work with partners who are not just going to do the glassy towers downtown but also are willing to do the projects that are in the communities, in the wards, (projects) that really touch people’s lives and make a difference.
“When you can get up on a Saturday and take your family to a movie and provide them with affordable entertainment, it means a lot.”
In this case, it meant the city was starting to take a turn for the better.
Boraie Development was founded and is still guided by Omar Boraie, the family patriarch.
Boraie, who helped spur the redevelopment and rebirth of New Brunswick, saw the same potential in Newark.
While Wasseem Boraie and his brother, Sam Boraie, do more of the day-to-day dealings now, they are quick to credit their father for all that the company achieves.
“My dad is one of the best real estate investors in New Jersey,” Wasseem Boraie said. “He saw all of this. He deserves all the credit.
“My brother and I just follow the game plan.”
For a while in Newark, that game plan involved sitting on the sidelines.
The family purchased the site that would become One Rector Street more than a decade ago.
And did nothing with it.
Wasseem Boraie said the city wasn’t ready for this type of investment when the family acquired the property.
“Before, the city was a closed system,” he said. “We didn’t play by the rules of old Newark. We used a completely unconventional approach until the city essentially went on the grid and became open to new investors.”
Boraie said the company was willing to wait for the city to change.
“Every year, they came to us and asked if we were going to move on it, and I was honest,” he said. “I said, ‘No.’ ”
“I said, ‘I will start when there is some demand I can draw from.’ I always make this joke and people think I’m kidding: I’m a developer, so I’m a leech. I leech off the demand that people like Prudential and Whole Foods and NJPAC and Military Park brings to the town.
“If there’s no demand generator, why would anybody live here?”
The demand, Boraie said, has come to Newark.
He said construction on One Rector Street will be finished by the end of the year, with pre-leasing set to being in the fall.
By next summer, Boraie predicts the building will be fully leased.
Then it’s on to the future.
O’Neal joked about taking the top floor on One Rector Street, a project everyone seems to be calling “Shaq Tower.”
Then he joked about having two residences.
Before One Rector Street has finished, Boraie and O’Neal are teaming up for their third project: 777 McCarter Highway.
The mixed-use facility will feature 350 residential units and sit in the block between Ironside Newark (and Mulberry Commons) and the Gateway Center towers.
It will be walking distance to both the Prudential Center and Newark Penn Station.
It’s a prime location. And Boraie said there’s one man to thank: Mayor Ras Baraka.
“The Mulberry Commons area is going to be gorgeous,” he said. “And the credit has to go to Baraka.
“Nothing got done down there for a long time, but he made sure everyone sat down and worked something out. He has vision. That’s why his administration has taken this city to another level.”
Boraie said the building process of 777 McCarter Highway has begun.
“We’re working on it right now,” he said. “We’re working on getting on all the planning approvals this year.”
Major construction work figures to start in 2019.
The project will represent another $150 million of investment into the city.
And while Boraie said some of the financing will come from assistance from incentives and grants from the state’s Economic Development Authority and the city, he said the project is moving forward because private money knows the time is right.
That, Boraie said, makes all the difference.
“Everyone talks about public-private, but that term has become perverted,” Boraie said. “It’s really private-public, because if I don’t have Goldman Sachs and our family writing checks for these projects, they are not going to happen.
“If it’s public, they don’t care what it costs or what it is. The private capital model is really how you rebuild cities.”