Newark’s Native Son Rebuilds Hometown

Newark’s Native Son Rebuilds Hometown

Hassan Keith likes to brag about James Baxter Terrace, the historic Newark housing project where he grew up.

“It was really a village — there were cousins, there were elders,” he said. “Those of us who grew up there are all highly educated and employed now.”

As the head of general construction for the Mid-Atlantic ­Alliance and managing partner of Lofts at Lincoln Park, Keith is one of Baxter Terrace’s highest achieving sons. From his community ­connections, to his own entrepreneurship, to his efforts to make more ­Newark residents homeowners, Keith spends every day building a better Newark.

The Mid-Atlantic Alliance has three developments in Newark: Lofts at Lincoln Park, Black Wall Street Project, and Urban League Townhomes. The ribbon-cutting for Lofts at Lincoln Park, a $7 million, 18-unit condominium development at 90-96 Clinton Avenue, took place this summer.

When Keith graduated from Rutgers in 1994, he moved back to Baxter ­Terrace to live with his grandparents and help care for his mother who’d just been diagnosed with cancer.

“The neighborhood was no longer what it was when I grew up,” he said. “It was dangerous.”

This spurred a search for a new home. Keith eventually found a three-family house in East Orange, NJ, fit for little else but a total rehab. But he did it—and moved his whole family out of Baxter Terrace.

“I got my passion for building out of that experience,” he revealed. “Out of ripping down the walls and putting them back up. From there I bought another house and got my friends from college involved.”

Keith has been gutting homes and fixing them up ever since, putting up new apartments and duplexes, and helping more Newark ­residents become homeowners. Members of the community know his mission and call him or stop him on the street to ask how they can ­qualify to buy a home, sort out mortgages, ­navigate credit inquiries, and build up the ­financial ability to own a home.

Even as Mid-Atlantic strives to meet the growing demand for at-market and even ­luxury housing in Newark, Keith takes care of his own.

“We have to make sure that we’re not pushing out residents that have been living in Newark for 30 or 40 years,” he said. “There’s no way that I would come in and move my cousins.”

But at the same time, he’s optimistic about what is happening in Newark.

“You can see changes every day. Our neighborhoods are becoming more desirable. People are coming to Newark and seeing the value.”

Those college buddies who helped Keith rehab that first house are now his business partners: Victor Baker, whose contracting firm was merged with Keith’s to form the Mid-Atlantic Alliance, and Michael Bunton, who went to Wall Street after college and helped Keith get the down payment for his first house.

A newer but no less valuable arrival to the crew is Mike Adams, the starting safety for the Carolina Panthers, who is involved in youth programs in Paterson, NJ, and who is emotionally invested in redeveloping urban communities.

And that emotional investment, shared by all of the Mid-Atlantic Alliance, is more central to their goals than the financial investments. What sets them apart from other developers is their dedication to the city of Newark.

“You need to have a conscience,” Keith says. “This work is more than just bricks and mortar.”

Hotel Indigo Developer is Hands-on

Hotel Indigo Developer is Hands-on

SAMER HANINI IS NOT your average hotel developer. He answers his cell phone, and you may just pass him while casually walking down Broad Street near his latest hotel development, Hotel Indigo.

Samer Hanini and his brothers, Amer and Thafer, formed their real estate company, Hanini Group, in 2004 and bought their first building on Newark’s Washington Street that year. Since then, they’ve restored and rehabbed more than $300 million worth of real estate, and built high caliber, loft-style, residential, retail, and corporate spaces, many in Newark’s downtown area.

Samer says his company’s success is due to its dedication to the community and “sweat equity”—personally putting in the work to move his projects forward. Whether it’s redrawing financial models 30 times in one night or creating architectural plans—and then executing them—Hanini never shies away from hard work.

The Hanini brothers grew up in Jersey City. Samer graduated from NJIT here in Newark and his brother, Thafer, graduated from Rutgers. “My mom is a teacher and my dad owned a deli. We come from a neighborhood family,” he explained.

Hanini’s parents also owned a small building in Jersey City and, as young men, the brothers did repairs for the tenants and took out the trash. So when they started ­buying buildings, they “knew a little about real estate,” Samer said, “but mostly the handyman stuff.” So why didn’t they become contractors instead of real estate developers? “We enjoyed more of the deal making side, trying to make something out of nothing. We liked the whole concept of creating value.”

The brothers bought their first building at an auction in Newark. “I don’t want to say it was dumb luck, but we weren’t that savvy back then,” Hanini revealed. They poured hours of their own labor into the building—and it paid off nicely. The high-quality work on that first building set the standard for what they could show to future investors. They used their investment capital to start buying and developing properties on ­Market Street.

“This whole process has been a learning experience,” Hanini said. “Every year we learn something new.”

The future looks promising for Hanini if his present work and success is any indication. Consider one of their most recent masterpieces—Hotel Indigo. A tall, slender, historical building on Broad Street, Hotel Indigo was originally built to be a residential building. But the city saw the need for a hotel close to Prudential Arena and Hanini Group was ready to take it on.

“Doing a historical restoration is a lot more challenging,” Hanini said. “But all the buildings we do have sat vacant for 30 or 40 years.”

The Haninis’ meticulous, hands-on approach has been key to the successful completion of similar projects in Passaic, NJ, and Brooklyn, NY. “Now we’re in the process of putting more work into Newark,” he continued. “We’re currently focused on two projects: converting St. Michael’s Hospital into a mixed use building and converting the Maple Avenue School into apartments.”

Hanini recognizes that Newark is a great place to build. Many of their projects stem from public/private partnerships. But Hanini and his brothers know that the key to Newark’s longevity and prosperity is its residents.

“Newark has a tremendous amount of infrastructure—the airport, the building stock. But the people are an amazing asset, too,” Hanini said. “It’s the local residents that see Newark through the rough patches.” 

A Stately Place to Work

A Stately Place to Work

Along a two-mile stretch of Newark’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. you’ll find some of the stateliest mansions. The strip was known as the city’s illustrious High Street during America’s Gilded Age, during the late 1800s. It’s where some of Newark’s industrial magnates, bankers and barons of yesteryear built a neighborhood that would be envied by residents and visitors alike. And it’s where three young entrepreneurs—Robert Demetrio, Pietro Calabretta, and Allan Suarez—decided to put down roots.

But instead of building a residential unit, the trio created a place where future barons could work, now called the Newark Foundry. “We started out renovating old brownstones in Brooklyn, but we were looking to move away from residential homes and into more commercial spaces,” explains Suarez.

With more than 30 years of construction, carpentry and restoration experience, the developers invested more than $350,000 to restore the charm of a neglected 6,200-sq-ft. mansion and convert it into a community hub for Newark entrepreneurs, professionals and freelancers.

Modern Technology Runs Throughout

“We strongly believe that Newark is on the cusp of being ­recognized as a legitimate tech hub leader,” foresees Suarez. The team recognized the importance of marrying contemporary technology with vintage architecture, which now makes the four-story Victorian-style building equipped with all the efficiencies necessary for a budding business. “Of course, we’re hardwired for Internet, data and phone on all three floors. And we didn’t have to destroy any of the original construction in the process.”

Co-founder Demetrio adds, “We added security cameras to each floor and the exterior, we use a Ring doorbell system that chimes through your smartphone, and there’s low-energy-use LED lighting.”

Sorry, No Vacancies

Combining these amenities with central heating and air ­conditioning, and a dedicated parking lot with an adjacent overflow lot, has not only made professionals come knocking, it’s made them rush the door.

As of August 1, 2017, just three short months after the Newark Foundry’s ribbon cutting, all 15 permanent offices have been rented, and the co-working space on the first floor has been converted into an office suite to meet popular demand.

Some of the businesses now calling Newark Foundry their corporate headquarters include law firm Irving and Mendenhall, Qunnections Management Group., and MCI Property Management.

Eyes on Newark

“We love reactivating old buildings. If there’s anything we can save and restore, we will,” shares Suarez. But it isn’t just a love of interior carpentry that led the developers to Newark’s doorstep.

“Newark could be a viable alternative to New York City’s overcrowded and expensive co-working options. We want to be a part of how Newark’s growing,” adds Suarez, who says this project was in the back of his mind for almost four years.

In 2013, a staffer for former Mayor Cory Booker invited the Newark Foundry owners to tour similar types of working space on the west coast, hoping to entice them to do that kind of work in Newark. “From there, it just grew,” recalls Suarez.

Next came location scouting, financing and, ultimately, the Newark Foundry.

Pin It on Pinterest