Prudential Unveils $444 Million Office Complex on Broad Street

As I stood in the wood-paneled elevator of the brand-new Prudential Financial Co. of America tower complex on Broad Street Tuesday morning, I had one nagging feeling.

Surrounded by politicians, luminaries, and captains of industry wearing thousand-dollar suits, freshly-pressed shirts, and silk ties as shiny as the rims on a Maserati, I felt a bit underdressed.

Sure, I always look a bit, shall we say, unconventional, but I have my own style, courtesy of eBay.

Yet despite my appearance, I had somehow found myself being escorted on a whirlwind VIP tour by John Strangfeld, chairman and CEO of Prudential, the current No. 29 on the Fortune 500.

Tagging along for the tour were some very impressive local and national power brokers, like Sen. Cory Booker, U.S. Rep. Donald Payne, Jr., and Lieutenant Gov. Kim Guadagno, who, it seems, has been relegated to tasks like this while our governor is off on Chris Christie’s Excellent Presidential Adventure in some cornfield in Iowa.

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Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, CEO John Strangfeld and Mayor Ras Baraka share ribbon cutting duties.

As we were shunted through conference rooms, executive dining suites, and cubicle farms and a rooftop park in the $444 million building, it was painfully obvious I didn’t belong. But amazingly, nobody seemed to give me a second thought. 

As we made our way back downstairs to a cavernous presentation hall flanked by 10-foot-high projector screens broadcasting time-lapse videos of Prudential Tower’s construction, I could see Booker was in his element - smiling, cracking jokes, taking selfies, and exchanging effervescent, bubbly banter with Strangfeld and Guadagno.

I could see this was the sort of event where Booker really shines: a face-to-face opportunity to highlight the public-private partnership in bringing his vision of a “new” Newark to life.

As I hovered around snapping photos and listening to Strangfeld and Richard Hummers, vice president of enterprise services and financial systems, pointing out this and that, I remained a bit skeptical of the narrative.

After all, Prudential may not have built this gleaming new office building were it not the beneficiary of generous tax incentives. But whatever the long-term effects of Prudential Tower are, the building is undoubtedly the most impressive to pop up here in many years, and the existence of such a building in a city like Newark is about as sincere an expression of commitment as a corporation could possibly manage.

We proceeded onward to the opening ceremony, where Mayor Ras J. Baraka took to the podium.

“Newark isn’t coming back - Newark is back!” he announced triumphantly, to thunderous applause. “Everything is taking hold,” he continued. “This impressive structure speaks of an urban renaissance. It has revitalized the downtown community and brought renewed energy to area businesses.”

After the ceremony concluded, following the obligatory ribbon-cutting, I was curious to hear more from Baraka about this renaissance, and the role corporations like Prudential play in making it a reality.

There is, after all, a lot of city here other than Prudential, and much of it still needs a bit of work. Baraka and his entourage seemed visibly annoyed by my presence, but he was nevertheless kind enough to grant me my 30 seconds.

“Newark is one of the wealthiest cities in the Northeast Corridor,” he began.

This, by the way, isn't quite true; Newark’s median household income in 2013, according to the Census Bureau, was just shy of $34,000 - a 20 percent increase from 2000, and certainly nothing to sneeze at, but still well behind the equivalent figure in the New York City metro area as a whole (nearly $60,000), and behind Washington (more than $57,000), Boston (nearly $53,000), Hartford ($52,000), Philadelphia ($47,000), and Portland, Maine ($44,000).

“The problem is, the wealth is not distributed to folks in the community. This building helps us provide economic growth for the city… as long as Prudential has a commitment not just to the growth of its own company, but to the growth of the city - that means it has to invest and make sure others benefit from its own growth. I think they’ve done that today by constructing this building. There’s thousands of manhours, hundreds of millions of dollars going to small, minority-owned businesses in this community as a result of it… it’s a huge opportunity for growth.”

Next I encountered Newark City Council President Mildred Crump. Unlike Mayor Baraka, she had no entourage, and, also unlike the mayor, she seemed delighted to speak to me at length about her hopes for Prudential’s impact on the city. (She even complimented my eBay shoes, just 50 bucks.)

I found her perspective refreshingly nuanced compared to the cheerleader-like tone Booker and Baraka had taken, but no less hopeful. Her priority?

“Jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, and jobs,” she said, without hesitating. “Fifty years ago, this was a thriving metropolis. People had day laboring jobs, which paid good money - they weren’t necessarily executives, but they participated in those infrastructure jobs that gave the city stability. We have to build that back. Prudential, and the mayor, are committed to making sure we have it - not just at the top, and definitely not just at the bottom, but in the middle.”

There’s no question Prudential has created jobs, thousands of them, and not just at Prudential Tower; the company’s invested millions in projects like the cleanup of Military Park and the restoration of the Hahne’s Building. But it’s not Downtown, or Prudential Tower, where their clout and financial muscle are most needed - it’s in that elusive middle President Crump spoke of.

The middle class, dormant for so long here, is finally poking its head out of its shell in places like Downtown, Forest Hill and Weequahic. Whether Prudential’s influence will help, or hurt, this re-emerging middle, and to what extent, will be the real test of its commitment to Newark.

Showing 4 reactions

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  • commented 2015-10-29 14:53:47 -0400
    Matthew, I appreciate your clarification—it was a much more nuanced and useful form of journalistic advice than what you initially offered. Also, thank you for the tip on Mark’s article, I’ll definitely check it out.
  • commented 2015-10-28 11:07:07 -0400
    Augustin, I’m not interested in a technical manual. I’m interested in the craft of journalism. If you look at Mark’s writing, he uses a conversational tone like Josh, and he writes with confidence and authority. But, even as editor, Mark doesn’t often write in the first person. He lets his subjects and the unfolding of events tell the story. As journalism, Mark’s brand is a much more powerful force. When Josh made the entire top of this story about himself and his eBay-currated wardrobe, it made it hard for me to read the rest of the story. This site is about Newark. The stories should be about Newark and the people in it — not just Josh. Josh’s first story about his personal discovery of the city was a perfect introduction to him as a writer and as a person coming to this city that many people care about. That same tone doesn’t translate when this story should be about the new building, what it means for the long-awaited rebirth of Newark, and how so many other people who call this city home reacted to it. Read Mark’s story about the Rutgers Law professor who gives students a tour of the city. It’s the same type of a story — a tour — told in very different ways. Mark’s story is more powerful because it highlights one man’s personal mission to make students feel at home here. That’s what I mean when I wrote: Make this less about yourself and more about Newark.
  • commented 2015-10-14 04:21:17 -0400
    Matthew, while the window into Newark that Josh offers us is certainly a personal, self-reflective one, it is by no means lacking in information or insight into the city or the culture of its public officials, and seems perfectly appropriate to the medium. If you are interested in reading technical writing about Newark, I suggest reading the census report Josh cites for you.

    I hadn’t given Newark a second thought until I read Josh’s articles, and probably wouldn’t have given it a third had he not written them the way he did, because the only thing that makes what he’s writing about meaningful is that he is not some distanced, disembodied, automaton observer, and that he clearly has some stake in what he’s writing about. The article is plenty about Newark, and since Josh clearly situates his perspective and interests in Newark and doesn’t make any pretense about writing from some ‘neutral’ perspective, I can only appreciate his particular take on the subject.

    Josh, I find your writing refreshing, and your work has earned at least one reader tonight. I look forward to learning more about the city through your articles.
  • commented 2015-10-08 09:41:06 -0400
    Make this less about you and more about Newark.

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