NEWARK-Matrix Development Group has had a major mixed-use redevelopment project in the works on this city’s waterfront for a few years, and now that $400 million project has a reason to proceed. The law firm of McCarter & English has agreed to lease about 230,000 sf of office space and will occupy about one-half of a proposed 14-story, 450,000-sf office tower whose construction had been awaiting an anchor tenant.

McCarter & English will move its headquarters a couple of blocks from its existing space at 4 Gateway Center here, where it has been for 15 years. The firm has been in existence since 1846 and based in Newark since 1864.

McCarter & English was represented in the transaction by John Powers, chairman of the tri-state region of CB Richard Ellis, along with Joan Meixner, David Sherman and Mark Trevisan of that firm’s New York and New Jersey offices. The terms have not been released. However, according to Powers, “based on a demographic study we found that the best location outside of Newark was MetroPark. But McCarter is paying a premium over MetroPark, and a premium over market. They were willing to do that to stay in Newark.”

“The significant growth of our firm, the ongoing consolidation in the legal marketplace and the location advantages of this city were the important elements in our decision,” says McCarter chairman Drew Berry. “Our civic commitment to the city was a critical factor.”

Besides the office tower, the project will include about 500 residential units in four towers, retail space and a 1,100-car parking structure. A 150-key hotel is also part of the long-term plan for the project, which has been named Riverfront Center. Matrix officials say they will start construction next spring and have McCarter & English in the building by late 2007. Construction of the residential portion would begin at that point.

“When it’s finished, this project will have an enormously positive economic impact on this city,” says Joseph Taylor, CEO of the Cranbury, NJ-based Matrix. “It will help ensure the redevelopment of Newark’s waterfront into a destination for working, living and entertaining.”

According to Matrix officials, the company has also been having discussions with both city and state officials “concerning the need for support of this large, mixed-use development.” No details of possible incentives or other support have been released.

The genesis for Riverfront Center traces to 2002 when Matrix signed a 99-year leasehold with the Port Authority of NY/NJ for the 420,000-sf class A Newark Legal Center nearby. In early 2003, then, Matrix bought a 5.7-acre Passaic riverfront site from PSE&G for $7 million, and followed that up later the same year by buying an adjacent one-acre site from Fleet Bank. It is on the two assembled sites totaling 6.7 acres near the Legal Center on which the new project will rise, with the residential component on the portion closer to the river.

Also nearby are the multi-building Gateway Center mixed-use complex, Newark Penn Station and the NJ Performing Arts Center. The Matrix project will anchor the first phase of Minish Waterfront Park, which when completed will stretch from Penn Station to NJPAC.

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