Plans are in the early stages for a project called West Side Heights in the city’s West Ward, which would transform close to three dozen properties that were conveyed for $1 earlier this year to the City of Newark by the New Jersey Schools Development Authority (SDA) into a 407,591.78 square foot mixed-use community.
In an interview with Jersey Digs, Carmelo G. Garcia, the Executive Vice President and Chief Real Estate Officer of Newark Community Economic Development Corporation, said that in recent years, many of these properties have been “a cancer to the community,” which he described as a “food and medical desert.”
The properties in question are located just east of the 92-year-old West Side High School, hence the name ‘West Side Heights’, and according to Garcia, were originally set to be the site of new public schools developed by the SDA. For example, a 2009 presentation by the SDA stated that a new 260,000 square foot $160 million West Side High School campus and athletic complex was set to be completed by July 2014 but that “major renovation projects such as this are much more likely to experience cost overruns and significant delays due to unforeseen conditions”
Despite the project plans, construction never began on the new educational facilities, and the properties, which include lots at 381-395 South Orange Avenue and dozens of neighboring tracts along South 11th Street and South 12th Street, have been unutilized for the past several years. They include vacant lots, multiple abandoned homes covered with graffiti and boarded up windows, and two-story strip mall that previously contained Papa John’s Pizza, Ambassador Fish and Chicken, a tax service agency, and a pharmacy until being shut down in recent years,
“We needed to really develop a concept and a strategy that would revitalize those blocks in that area by virtue of meeting the needs and the demands of that community,” said Garcia. “That’s what we did.”
Garcia stated that West Side Heights could bring 53 new residences, which could include condominiums as well as single-family, two-family, and three-family homes as part of a staggered housing approach. The goal, according to Garcia, is to develop ‘villages’ within the complex, including an environmentally friendly/green village, a commuters village, and a village for Newark’s first responders and City employees.
“You’re going to get a great product for a great price and you’re going to be in a community that’s going to thrive off of its current public employees, commuters, millennials, and homeowners,” Garcia explained, adding that “you can’t beat that. That’s what really is community wealth building and neighborhood revitalization.”
Plus, City records show that a 5,000 square foot child care center operated by Newark Public Schools called the West Side Early Childhood Center will be included as part of the project. In addition, development renderings by Inglese Architecture + Engineering show that three mixed-use buildings containing commercial uses and medical offices are also planned for the premises.
First, however, before any construction can begin a project developer must be designated by the Newark Municipal Council as part of this public-private partnership. Subsequently, the site will have to undergo environmental remediation.
”This is a pioneering project that is going to be a true transformation for the West Ward,” Garcia said, envisioning the complex as part of the larger development boom in Newark. Garcia hopes that in a few years, from the site of a currently abandoned shopping center, “you could jump on a bus, get to Penn Station, get on the river and walk 17 acres of the newly developed Riverfront Park and then walk back home through Mulberry Commons Park.”