Turning a Newark ‘no-man’s land’ into a residential neighborhood

Published: Oct. 03, 2022

By Steve Strunsky | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

Russo Development's Vermella Broad Street project will add 296 rental apartments to Newark's Lower Broad Street neighborhood just north of Route 280.

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Jay Dunbar had just hustled across Newark’s busy intersection of Broadway, Broad and Clay streets on a recent weekday when he paused to describe the nondescript neighborhood surrounding it.

“It’s definitely a no-man’s land,” said Dunbar, 22, of West Orange, who had been shopping for Caribbean food a few blocks away.

The intersection is near the north end of an isolated four-square-block pocket of the city a few blocks from the Passaic River, just east of Route 21. Highlighted by the contrasting images of a blue-roofed Burger King and the 1849 House of Prayer Episcopal Church, the area is separated from the city’s more prosperous downtown section by Route 280.

But the neighborhood that some know as Lower Broad Street or Lower Broadway is changing fast, with newly constructed housing, new businesses, and plans for more.

Most visible is a 296-unit apartment complex under construction on a 3-acre rectangular lot along Broad Street between Burger King and the old stone church.

Known as Vermella Broad Street, the $84 million project is by Russo Development. The Carlstadt-based company has helped transform Harrison, just across the Passaic River, from a blue-collar industrial town into a modern bedroom community linked by the PATH commuter rail system to jobs in Newark, Jersey City and Manhattan.

Edward Russo, the company’s CEO, said the Newark project would benefit from its access to Route 280 and PATH and NJ Transit rail service at Newark Penn Station, less than a mile away.

In addition, the site is just half a block from NJ Transit’s Broad Street Station, offering service to Hoboken, New York Penn Station, and points west. Rail commuters who move into the complex after its completion next year will be able to see their new digs from the station, where Vermella’s cinderblock stairwell towers and wooden framing of its upper floors are visible from the train platforms.

“We felt that it was a logical location to do moderate density, mixed-use redevelopment,” Russo said of Vermella Broad Street, which will also include 4,200 square feet of retail space. “Not to draw comparisons to Harrison, but similar to what you see there. Our site in Newark, even though it’s in a city, it’s a little different location than the high-rises that you’re seeing around Newark Penn station.”

Compared with recent skyscraping, high-density apartment towers in downtown Newark by developers including Shaquille O’Neal and his partners at Boraie Development, Vermella is a pair of five-story buildings spread over 3 acres.

The project will include two interior courtyards, a swimming pool, a rooftop lounge with cooking and dining areas, plus “Instagram-worthy views” of Newark and Manhattan. Inside, there will be lounges, a fitness center and workout studio, co-working spaces, and concierge services.

It will include 65 studios, 163 1-bedroom apartments and 68 2-bedroom units. Construction began on both buildings in April, with completion of the smaller, 96-unit structure next June, followed by the 200-unit structure that October or November.

Rents haven’t been determined, but Russo said Vermella would be “moderate-priced housing.”

The project will also include 30 affordable units reserved for people making no more than 80% of the annual median household income for the region. The company will also contribute $450,000 to the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

Vermella was granted a tax abatement in August 2021 by the Newark City Council based on a recommendation from the city’s deputy mayor for economic development, Allison Ladd. The 30-year abatement substitutes standard taxation for payments starting at 10% of the project’s gross revenues over its first 15 years, gradually increasing to 15% by year 30.

In addition to welcoming the project’s 100 temporary construction jobs, Ladd said Vermella anchors the ongoing redevelopment of the Lower Broad Street neighborhood, including Spring and Grant streets and 8th Avenue.

Recently completed additions to the neighborhood include Spring Street Commons, an 84-unit, 5-story apartment building with ground-floor retail space at the southeast corner of Spring and Clay streets. ApartmentFinder.com was listing a 2-bedroom apartment there with hardwood floors and stainless steel appliances for $2,400 a month.

The newer businesses in the neighborhood include Bentley’s, a restaurant that opened two years ago at the southwest corner of Spring and Clay streets, a block from the newish Taco Bell that sits catty-corner from the aging Burger King. The manager at Bentley’s, Michael Tate, said he was counting on Vermella to expand the restaurant’s clientele — and his personal living options.

“Absolutely!” said Tate, 25. “I also live in the neighborhood, and I hope to get one of the units myself. Hopefully, something affordable.”

 

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-10-04 04:40:29 -0700