Topping off a 33-story apartment tower, Shaq and his latest project loom large over Newark

Published: Jun. 13, 2022

A 33-story apartment tower in Newark developed by NBA Hall of Famer and native son Shaquille O’Neal is nearing completion, scraping the downtown sky like Shaq once towered over the basketball court.

The 50-year-old retired center, television commentator and entrepreneur returned to the city where he was born for a “topping off” ceremony in a tent at the base of the building Monday afternoon. It included Gov. Phil Murphy, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, brothers Wasseem and Sam Boraie, and their father, Omar, Shaq’s longtime development partners.

The tallest man in the tent, the 7-foot 1-inch O’Neal pulled the microphone out of a holder set for Murphy and commended the governor for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Murphy had introduced O’Neal as a loyal Newarker who returned to his hometown again and again, and the big man deflected the compliment with humor.

“People always say I never forget where I came from,” O’Neal, who grew up in Newark’s Central Ward, told a crowd of about 200 state and city officials, business people and fans. “I’m not allowed because my mother has a sister, and her name is belt! And on the inside of the belt it says, ‘I’ll whip your ass.’”

O’Neal also praised Baraka for welcoming and expediting his development plans after previous administrations had thrown up roadblocks. He credited the father and sons behind New Brunswick-based Boraie Development for having the expertise and experience to realize his goal of contributing to a more prosperous Newark.

“They’re not only partners, they’re mentors,” O’Neal said.

The concrete and brick building, known as 777 McCarter after its location on McCarter Highway near Newark Penn Station, will have 370 studio, 1- and 2-bedroom apartments, including 20% affordable units — a ratio the city mandated — set aside for families earning up to 50% of the regional median income.

The remaining units will be market-rate, estimated to rent for $2,000 to $3,000 a month depending on the number of bedrooms, said Wasseem Boraie.

The topping-off ceremony means that the basic framework of the building has been completed through the 33rd floor, though construction is projected to last another 10 months before tenants start moving in late next year, Boraie said.

Goldman Sachs, CitiBank and Prudential Financial are financing the $190 million construction cost.

The McCarter project is the third one in Newark for the O’Neal-Boraie partnership, which completed a multi-plex in 2012 and an apartment building at 50 Rector Park in 2019 that’s now 100% occupied, Boraie said.

During Monday’s ceremony, O’Neal noted that the partnership has a fourth project in the works on Newark’s Passaic River waterfront. Boraie later said it would be a 333-unit rental complex with a similar mix of market-rate and affordable units. He expects to begin construction early next year and complete the project about two years later.

The topping off was O’Neal’s second Newark event of the day. Earlier, he joined Baraka and other city officials for the opening of a completely refurbished basketball court on Hawthorne Avenue, done in conjunction with Believe in Newark Foundation. It was the second “Comebaq Court” under a nationwide initiative sponsored by Sanofi, the French healthcare company that manufactures the Icy Heat topical pain reliever.

Shaq didn’t shoot. But Newark teenager Daniel Rivera sure did, sinking a shot from half-court on a challenge O’Neal had issued to the several dozen Newark public school students on hand.

“Your foot was on the line,” Shaq deadpanned after the cheers died down. “You gotta do it over.”

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-06-14 03:19:04 -0700