Why Newark — yes, Newark — is leading way on urban development

Souder: Leaders around country are taking notice of city’s efforts

It made perfect sense for the first-ever Newark Summit — an event discussing commercial real estate and how it impacts the social fabric of a community — to be held Monday at Ironside Newark.

After all, if the beautifully refurbished mix-use building by Edison Properties that just attracted an ace of aces tenant, McKinsey & Co., wasn’t enough, consider this:

  • The property borders Mulberry Commons — which will be a starting/end point of the Mulberry Commons bridge that will connect with the Ironbound, opening up the city like never before;
  • The property also borders 777 McCarter, the luxury high-rise that is setting a new standard of elegance in the city;
  • The property is a stone’s throw from the remodeled Gateway Center buildings, which are at the forefront of bringing workers back into the city — and into an office complex that Onyx Equities is making worthwhile to come to.

But, if you speak with Calvin Souder, a co-founder and name partner of Souder, Shabazz and Woolridge and the lawyer who seems to be in the center of every big deal in Newark, the city’s essence of doing good is what is putting it out in front of other cities in the country.

It starts with its 20% inclusionary zoning ordinance that is creating more affordable housing than anyone thought possible, he said.

“I can tell you, Newark is leading the way,” Souder said. “When I was doing a deal in Savannah, Georgia, they asked me to give a talk on Newark’s inclusionary zoning ordinance. They wanted to know more.

“When I was in Cleveland, the mayor was asking me to set up a meeting with (Mayor) Ras Baraka because he wants to hear about what Newark has been doing with its abandoned properties.

“Even the federal government took notice of how Newark solved its lead pipe problem — and did it quickly.

“The conversations I have again and again around the country are around: How do we grow in the way that we see Newark growing?”

That was the topic of conversation at nearly every panel at the Newark Summit — highlighted by a one-on-one talk with Baraka, who explained all of the pushes he has been making for equitable growth.

It’s working, Souder said.

The decision of McKinsey to bring its more than 700 New Jersey employees to Ironside Newark is evidence of the desire of companies to have a workplace that’s in an urban center — a key to attracting young talent. (Yes, it’s time to start saying that again. The pandemic pause has passed.)

Souder said the announcement drew plenty of calls.

“People who didn’t fully understand Newark took notice,” he said. “They wanted to learn more about what is going on here. It gave us a chance to tell the Newark story.”

Souder said that Newark story is so great that fewer and fewer developers are fighting the 20% affordable housing requirement.

“I tell them, ‘We can fight it, if you want to spend years battling it,” he said. “But, if you want to get a shovel into the ground, you need to find a way to work with the city instead of trying to work around it.”

The panel moderated by Calvin Souder.

Souder, who moderated a panel on affordable housing, said his panel — which featured LaMonica McIver (city council president), Leslie Anderson (CEO of the New Jersey Redevelopment Authority), Melanie Walter (executive director of the New Jersey Housing & Mortgage Finance Agency) and Bernel Hall (CEO of New Jersey Community Capital) — showed there are plenty of folks willing to help.

The fact that Newark rents are still dramatically lower than New York City (not to mention Jersey City and Hoboken) helps. As does the dark fiber under the Newark streets — something the city did a generation ago but is only now reaping the benefits of.

“All these tech cities across the country are trying to figure out how to get what we’ve got,” Souder said.

What Newark has is a lot of next-generation leaders — in all sorts of roles.

Of course, it starts with Baraka, the son of the famed activist, but also includes folks such as Souder and Aisha Cooper, the daughter of Marshall Cooper, an activist who passed just weeks ago.

“I’m one of a group of kids who’ve grown into adults whose parents were here doing things and raised us to see our city differently,” Souder said. “I think our mayor is the biggest example of it.

“I think it’s special to see the son of Amiri Baraka running the city and leading the charge, right, but I also think it’s important to note that you have Aisha Coopers of the world, who is leader at (economic housing and development).

“I’m just proud to say that I’m from here, working with people from here.”

Proud to be part of a city that is leading the way.

“People are coming here from outside to see what’s happening here,” he said. “They are seeing what it means to really change what an inner city like Newark can look like. There are a lot of Newarks in this country. We’re leading the way. I’m glad to just be a part of it.”