New Jersey’s largest university no longer owns the high-rise at 155 Washington Street in Downtown Newark, but changes are already occurring on the premises.
Jersey Digs has confirmed that Rutgers University sold the 18-story edifice and adjacent buildings to 155 Washington Street Urban Renewal, a company registered out of the offices of L+M Development Partners. The sale was approved by the Rutgers University Board of Governors, according to Rutgers-Newark Senior Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs and Chief of Staff Peter Englot. 155 Washington Street Urban Renewal now appears in municipal tax filings as the property owner.
Located by the corner of Warren Street, the site, which now includes two billboards advertising L+M’s nearby Walker House project in the former New Jersey Bell Headquarters Building, has been home to a flurry of activity in recent weeks. Windows have been removed from the previously vacant 18-story high-rise and work is underway on the facade of the nearly 90-year-old structure. Meanwhile, the adjacent two-story building at 151 Washington Street, the former home of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan New Jersey, has been demolished. Fencing also surrounds a neighboring building that used to contain the Washington Corners Legal Center.
The construction is in preparation for a project that Jersey Digs has been following since March 2018. The 18-story building is expected to be converted into a development with between 220 and 225 market-rate residential units along with retail space, a possible pedestrian mews, and terraces. Additionally, a separate four-story building with 29 units is expected to be constructed on the premises. Documents previously obtained through public records requests indicated that a Rutgers-Newark admissions office and campus welcome center were also planned for the Warren Street side of the project.
The sale of the property by Rutgers to L+M marks a major change from the original vision for this development. 155 Washington Street Urban Renewal, a company founded with the assistance of Prudential Impact Investments Private Equity, was previously expected to lease the premises from the university. The proposed lease was even mentioned in a Newark Municipal Council ordinance concerning the $73 million project’s long-term tax abatement.
The firm was slated to pay $225,000 in rent for the first year, an amount that would increase by two percent annually, according to a copy of a ground lease obtained by Jersey Digs earlier this year. The lease specifically banned religious institutions from the building along with businesses such as nightclubs, “salvation army type” stores, “deep discount” businesses like dollar stores, and medical marijuana dispensaries.
Plans for a long-term lease of 155 Washington Street apparently ended with a resolution that was approved by Rutgers’ Board of Governors on June 19. The resolution referenced a purchase and sale agreement from May that “among other terms, obligates the redeveloper to construct the redevelopment project as previously presented to the Board of Governors in July 2018, and obligates Rutgers to sell the property to the redeveloper for $9.2 million.”
Due to the ownership change, the site is now essentially an island that is almost entirely surrounded by Rutgers-owned properties. However, L+M is no stranger to the neighborhood, having been involved in projects such as Hahne & Co. and an upcoming development at the site of 31 Central. The company also owns Zion Towers and Georgia King Village.
Unlike other major projects in the city, with the exception of Jersey Digs’ reporting on the matter, the 155 Washington Street development has remained almost entirely under the radar since it was first envisioned. There remains no mention of 155 Washington Street on L+M’s website and Rutgers-Newark never issued a press release specifically regarding the project, only referencing it online in the context of other initiatives and in agendas for Board of Governors meetings.
It is not clear if any changes have been made to the design or features of the development since the sale. Citing the fact that Rutgers no longer owns the property, Englot referred most of Jersey Digs’ questions about the project to L+M. A spokesperson for the Westchester County, New York-based developer declined to comment for this report.