NJPAC details plans for ‘vibrant new neighborhood’ on Arts Center campus

$150M project will have 330 rental units in high-rise and low-rise buildings, retail, restaurants (including food hall) and cultural spaces (including arts education center)

John Schreiber, the CEO of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, said the overarching mission of the center has remained the same since it opened in 1997: Contribute to the ongoing revitalization of Newark’s downtown.

Today, that mission takes a giant step forward.

NJPAC, along with its development partners Center Street Owners — a new entity that involves L+M Development Partners and architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill — will unveil a $150 million project that will help NJPAC essentially create a vibrant new neighborhood on the arts center’s 7.3-acre riverfront campus.

The neighborhood will bring nearly 350 units of housing as well as retail establishments, restaurants and cultural spaces — and it will come with a pedestrian-friendly extension of Mulberry Street, across what is now NJPAC’s Lot A parking area.

The project, which is expected to break ground in 2022, has an anticipated completion in 2024.

Highlights of the new neighborhood include:

  • Two midrise residential buildings (six stories), with arts and food-related businesses and street-level retail along this new thoroughfare;
  • A high-rise residential building (approximately 20 stories) on McCarter Highway;
  • Approximately 330 total residential rental units — 80% market rate, 20% affordable housing;
  • Approximately 15 for-sale townhomes and condos;
  • A redesign of the Arts Center’s east facade to create a second entry to NJPAC theaters.

NJPAC officials said the project also will include two special elements:

  • The Cooperman Family Arts and Community Center: Situated near the corner of Center and Mulberry streets, the center will serve as a seven-days-a-week facility where most of the activities will be free to the public. Schreiber said it will offer a chance for everybody from babies to seniors to have education experiences, wellness programs and activities. The Cooperman Center is expected to break ground in 2022.
  • Mulberry Market: Celebrity restaurateur and entrepreneur Marcus Samuelsson, whose Newark restaurant, Marcus B&P, has become a highlight of the city’s downtown dining scene, will create Mulberry Market, a food market in the image of Boston’s Faneuil Hall and Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market, although on a smaller scale. Mulberry Market also will include educational uses, such as a teaching kitchen that provides community cooking classes.

NJPAC is not financing any of the vertical development; rather, it is providing a 6.1-acre ground lease for the project. The project relies on an expected incentive award from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority. Center Street Owners also will seek financial support provided for in the recently enacted New Jersey Economic Recovery Act of 2020, and in a city of Newark revenue allocation bond.

Prudential Impact & Responsible Investments is a partner in the project, as well.

Schreiber said the neighborhood will be a milestone moment for the Arts Center and city.

“What we are saying out loud now is that this next phase of the Arts Center is ready to roll,” he told ROI-NJ. “It is our desire — and it’s a desire that is shared by many stakeholders in Newark — to create a holistic arts-and-education district in the downtown.

“The goal is to create an environment that is really appealing to our Newark residents, but also will give folks from outside of Newark a reason to come down and recreate in a way that is much more than coming to the Arts Center to see a concert, maybe have dinner, and go home.

“The goal is: Let’s create a place that feels great for residents, but is also intriguing, engaging — a unique neighborhood that is a fun place to go and hang around in. That’s the big idea.”

While such an arts district has been envisioned since NJPAC opened, plans for this project are just a few years in the making.

With early conceptual inspiration and financial support from Prudential Impact & Responsible Investments, the Arts Center undertook the master planning of this redevelopment in 2019, working with New York City-based rePLACE Urban Studio.

Schreiber said the plan ultimately coalesced into a single vision for the campus: an open, welcoming “public realm” where the arts are activated and experienced both indoors and out. As in Newark’s past, multiple streets and alleys will crisscross the downtown area, connecting busy thoroughfares and letting in light and air, he said.

The team created to conceive, design, develop and build this new neighborhood includes the new entity, Center Street Owners, which is led by L+M Development Partners (which has redeveloped several award-winning Newark sites, including Walker House and Hahne & Co.) and internationally renowned architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (which is known for its work in creating technically and environmentally advanced buildings and public urban spaces around the world).

NJPAC, led by Schreiber and Tim Lizura, the arts center’s senior vice president of real estate and capital projects, will oversee it all.

Their vision, they said, is clear.

“Rather than look at this acreage as a collection of one-offs, we want a holistic and thoughtful master plan,” Schreiber said. “The beauty of NJPAC serving as master planner is that we are not obliged to squeeze every dollar out of every inch of real estate.

“We can make thoughtful decisions about not only how to create enticing residential, but also have education and cultural assets as part and parcel of it — totally integrated to it.”

That integration, Lizura said, is key to its success.

“The trick to create vibrancy is to have people there 24/7,” he said. “We have a terrifically vital business community that gives it great vitality during the day. Residents populate streets at nights and weekends. You put those two things together, you immediately get vibrancy.”

The projects already has two big supporters.

“The redevelopment of NJPAC’s campus will be a game-changing step forward for the evolution of Newark’s downtown, creating an ideal live-work-play environment in the city’s heart — and making more affordable housing available for families of all kinds,” Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said.

Gov. Phil Murphy agreed.

“NJPAC has been a leader in the revitalization and redevelopment of downtown Newark,” he said. “I am thrilled to see this next phase of development around one of New Jersey’s cultural linchpins, which will continue the tremendous progress being made in Newark while embracing its storied past.”