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Harlem retailers flock to $150M Newark complex

Teachers Village bringing six residential and educational buildings to downtown

The restaurateur behind New York City’s legendary Shark Bar and an up-and-coming Harlem fitness authority are leading a pack of retailers opening at the $150 million Teachers Village project in downtown Newark.

The groundbreaking retail, housing and charter school project — led by Ron Beit, managing member of RBH Group — represents one of the biggest developments in the city in decades, part of an effort to transform Newark into a thriving residential and entertainment destination.

The Richard Meier-designed complex will provide rental housing for more than 200 Newark teachers, will house three local charter schools and a local daycare, and include more than 70,000 square feet of retail space. A groundbreaking in February 2012 drew a cast of luminaries that ranged from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein.

Michael Vann, co-founder of the Upper West Side’s defunct Shark Bar and Soul Café, among others, said he has worked closely with Beit to attract a host of New York City entrepreneurs to the complex.

The restaurateur has inked a multi-year contract to open a 1,500-square-foot casual dining restaurant, called Chicken Jones, at the complex.

Other retailers hopping the Hudson River include Mad Cool Fitness, which will open a 3,170-square-foot flagship gym, helmed by Harlem fitness expert Jennifer Turner; Tonnie’s Minis, a 1,000-square-foot cupcake shop from Harlem baker Tonnie Rozier; and Sudsy Water, a 950-square-foot dry cleaning and laundry service that is also based in Harlem. Rents were not disclosed.

The retailers will join a 1,807-square-foot Provident Bank branch; a 2,500-square-foot Krauszer’s Convenience Store; Intrinsic Café, measuring 1,635 square feet; and Kids in Business at 500 square feet, all of which are expected to begin opening in early 2014. All together, the eight stores represent 13,000 square feet.

The first two buildings of the six-building complex opened Wednesday. One will house SPARK Academy, an elementary school for 520 students at 230-240 Halsey Street, and Discovery Charter School, a middle school for 75 students. The second building at 24 Maiden Lane will host Great Oaks Charter School, a middle school for 220 students, and Chen Daycare, which will have after school services for 147 students, plus three stores.

Three residential buildings with 123 apartments for teachers and staff are set to open in 2014. The final building will open in 2015, with 90 rental apartments and 10,000 square feet of retail space.

Beit pushed the project at a time when nobody believed it would succeed, according to industry insiders and politicos, and convinced several new businesses to bring services that are missing in downtown Newark.

“It was my vision to bring businesses that I thought were compatible to Newark,” Vann told The Real Deal. “Urban renewal presents opportunity.”

Turner, a fitness consultant at Harlem Children’s Zone, the well-known parenting nonprofit, said she was looking for a spot to launch her first brick-and-mortar location and landed on Newark.

“We very much want to be a part of revitalizing the Newark community,” she told The Real Deal. She has plans to open up additional locations in New York City, Washington D.C., Atlanta and Los Angeles.

Christian Benedetto, a broker at Hopkins, Sampson & Brown in Livingston, N.J., which represents Teacher’s Village, said the project is the beginning of a transformation for Newark.

“We have strived to achieve — and are well on the way to delivering — a mix of retail that in conjunction with the schools and apartments will make Teacher’s Village a true neighborhood,” he said.