A High Line Plan Emerges in Newark, N.J.
MORRIS, KEIKO. “A High Line Plan Emerges in Newark, N.J.” The Wall Street Journal. Feb. 5, 2017
A former skeptic of the High Line walkway on Manhattan’s West Side is now one of the biggest advocates of a similar project across the Hudson River.
Jerry Gottesman, chairman of Edison Properties LLC, a real estate company and parking-lot and self-storage giant, was once a vocal skeptic of efforts to convert the abandoned freight rail line on the West Side into a landscaped promenade. The project attracts more than 7.5 million people a year.
Now, Mr. Gottesman is an advocate of a similar elevated promenade in Newark, N.J.
A raised pedestrian bridge is one of the signature features of a 22-acre public-private redevelopment project called Mulberry Commons, unveiled by the city of Newark and developers last month.
Although the bridge won’t be built on old railroad tracks, like the High Line is, it will connect neighborhoods, creating a pathway linking the city’s Ironbound neighborhood, a former industrial section known for its ethnic mix, restaurants and shops, with Newark Penn Station and a planned 3-acre park surrounded by commercial and residential development in front of the downtown Prudential Center.
Edison Properties’ $80 million conversion of a vacant warehouse to retail and loft-style office space will sit in the middle of Mulberry Commons at one end of the raised promenade. The bridge and park will be designed by Sage and Coombe Architects, with the park expected to be completed by late summer in 2018.
A rendering of Mulberry Commons Park, with Newark Penn Station in the background. PHOTO:PERKINS EASTMAN
The hope is that the public open space would do for Newark what the High Line helped do for Manhattan’s West Side: spur further development, raise property values and bring more foot traffic and residents.
“Mulberry Commons is the catalyst we’re waiting for, the catalyst to raise the value of property and also bring people to an essential location of the city where they can hang out, live and play,” said Newark Mayor Ras Baraka.
In a statement, Mr. Gottesman said: “Edison Properties has been a strong believer in Newark for decades, and now we are delighted to play a major role in its resurgence.”
His embrace of the High Line happened over many years. Edison Properties executives said a key turning point was rezoning, which allowed for greater density on certain parcels and the transfer of development rights that added value to surrounding properties.
Before Friends of the High Line, the organization that led the conversion of the tracks to public open space, came on the scene, Mr. Gottesman and about two dozen property owners had long been lobbying for the dilapidated rail line to be demolished. He was known to have his staff mail to elected officials pieces of debris that had fallen from the tracks onto his property.
Even after the two co-founders of Friends of the High Line launched their quest, Mr. Gottesman was skeptical there would be enough funding, said Benjamin Feigenbaum, chief operating officer of Edison Properties.
But the High Line quickly proved to be a success. Friends of the High Line estimates the park will generate $1 billion in tax revenue for the city over 20 years.
In 2015, Newark-based Edison, which Mr. Gottesman and his late brother started in the 1950s, sold an entire block site in Chelsea with the High Line running through it for $870 million, far more than it paid for it in the 1980s.
The Mulberry Commons development is the result of more than a decade of complicated land exchanges involving Edison and J&L Cos., another Newark developer committed to developing two sites in the project.
The mayor made it a priority to complete the negotiations. Mr. Gottesman brought Mr. Baraka to visit the High Line, in part to assuage concerns that the new project would steer people off the streets, as with the drab enclosed walkways built decades ago as part of the Gateway office complex.
“The High Line has made people think of how public space can be used to connect places,” said Robert Hammond, co-founder and executive director of Friends of the High Line.
Edison Properties owns six sites surrounding the planned Mulberry Commons Park, including a large vacant 110-year-old warehouse. Edison is investing another $20 million in the park and bridge, which essentially serve as the front door to its warehouse-conversion project, now called Ironside Newark.
“We considered all options, including tearing it down until we started seeing what other people were doing with old warehouse buildings,” said Robert Selsam, chairman of Edison’s board.