Newark's $150M Teachers Village gradually coming to life

By Steve Strunsky | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on January 23, 2017

NEWARK -- The high-backed pedicure "thrones" at the Bella Nail Lounge and Beauty Bar are meant to make clients feel like royalty.

And, according to the owner of the new gold-toned, rococo style salon, they've been working.

"It's been actually pretty good," said Lisa Allen, a former healthcare administrator who opened the business three months ago on Maiden Lane in Newark's Teachers Village mixed-use development. "Newark has embraced us as something different."

Like the beauty bar, Teachers Village itself is something new for Newark. The development is like a neighborhood unto itself, with a distinct look and feel that nonetheless is integrated into Newark's downtown streets.

It includes 3 charter schools, 65,000 square feet of ground-level retail space, and a total of 204 apartments with a preference for educators, all housed in a cluster of buildings in a four-block area surrounding the intersection of Maiden Lane and Halsey Street, a block from Prudential Arena.

After breaking ground in 2012, the initial, school phase of the $150 million project was completed a year later, and the Team Charter, Discovery Charter and Great Oaks Charter Schools are now open, with more than 1,000 teachers and children in all, according to an update on the Teachers Village's project by its developer, the RBH Group.

A recent self-guided tour revealed that the project is gradually coming to life -- a community of schools, homes and businesses, visually distinguishable by the signature elements of its designer, Newark native Richard Meier, the Pritzker Prize-winning architect of the Getty Center in Los Angeles and Spain's Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art.

Meier is known for his use of the color white, combined with grid-like exterior details, both dominant characteristics of Teachers Village. To compliment those design elements, and to acknowledge and help fit into the surrounding Brick City neighborhood, some exterior walls are done in a dark brown brick.

In addition to Bella Lounge, RBH said there are two other businesses now open, Closet Savvy and Provident Bank, in a total of 18 storefronts. Others expected to open in coming weeks include a Krausers convenience store and a Tonnie's Minis cupcake bakery, with medical services, restaurants and a fresh food marketplace to open over the next six months, RBH said.

The residential phase of the project is scheduled for completion early this year, and all 123 units that have been completed are now occupied. Among those, 70 percent are by teachers and other educators, the developer added.

RBH founder and CEO Ron Beit said the company was proud that Teachers Village had helped spur other projects in the area known as the Halsey Street Corridor, where apartments and retailers including Whole Foods are being developed in and around the former Hahne's department store site.   

"We are very proud that Teachers Village has become an anchor for the Halsey Street retail corridor that ties in all the new development underway," said Beit, whose investment partners include Goldman Sachs and Prudential, in a project assisted by city, state and federal tax breaks. "When we first started Teachers Village we never imagined that it would have inspired other high quality development in Newark as quickly as it has."

Seated on one of the gilded thrones at Bella Nail as a pedicurist worked on her toes, Terri Gibson said she was impressed by Newark's downtown revival, which she likened to what began happening years earlier along Hudson County's Gold Coast.

"I think Newark is in line to be the next Hoboken or Jersey City," said Gibson, 42, a registered nurse who lives in Linden, who had heard about the salon from a friend.

Around the corner, 62-year-old Patricia Robinson had just left a jobs fair and was walking through Teachers Village to catch a bus back to the South Ward.

"It's nice. It's nice," Robinson repeated when asked her impression of the project. "The buildings are excellent. They didn't just throw it up. You can't walk past it and not notice it."

There was one more thing Robinson liked about the project.

"I guess it'll bring jobs, too," she said.

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