Newark native Shaquille O'Neal back home for pair of community improvements

ByDondre Lemon via WABC logo
Monday, June 13, 2022
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NBA legend, entrepreneur and Newark native Shaquille O'Neal was back in his hometown Monday to reveal two projects to improve the community. Toni Yates has the story.

NEWARK, New Jersey (WABC) -- Newark is hoping a new transformative residential complex with some star power backing will be a slam dunk for the city.

NBA legend, entrepreneur and Newark native Shaquille O'Neal was back in his hometown Monday to reveal two projects to improve the community.

First, the Shaquille O'Neal Foundation announced the refurbishment of the existing public basketball courts at David L. Warner Park on Hawthorne Avenue, dubbed the Comebaq Court.

"Shaquille O'Neal is a Newark native who has brought this city glory and fame on the NBA court and given back to us through community commitment and investment," Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said. "The new Comebaq Court is another example of these works, that will greatly benefit our youth. It will rapidly become part of our state-of-the-art recreation programs that keep our youth engaged and healthy."

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According to the Aspen Institute, local athletic programs that typically serve youth at scale won't be able to recover from the struggles of the past few years at the same pace as larger, organized, student sports teams with private resources.

The "Comebaq Courts" project seeks to mitigate such inequities by offering updated spaces for athletes to resume community sports activities.

"Giving back through this Comebaq Court in my hometown is really special," O'Neal said. "This effort will have a lasting impact on a community near and dear to my heart."

Shortly After, Governor Phil Murphy joined the celebration for a topping-off ceremony for a new 33-story mixed income residential tower on Edison Place.

"Newark has proven to be a city of opportunity within our state of opportunity, and with the many upcoming developments in this area, I am proud that the top priority remains for there to be quality affordable housing for the residents who call this city their home," Murphy said. "I applaud Mayor Baraka, Boraie Development, and the many community leaders who have made affordable housing available to the families of Newark."

The building will provide 370 affordable apartments to the community, making it the largest mixed income project in New Jersey.

Informally called "Shaq Tower 2," a penthouse apartment in 777 McCarter will become Shaq's home.

"When I first met Mayor Baraka, we talked about restoring my favorite city to its past glory," O'Neal said. "Today, looking around Newark, you can see what teamwork and commitment looks like under true leadership - and that's why Mayor Baraka is my favorite mayor."

The building will have a range of amenities, including a roof deck lounge, fifth-story gym and outdoor pool, 24/7 concierge, and 12,000 square feet of retail space for fine restaurants.

The ceremony marked an important milestone in fulfilling Baraka's vision of making Newark's business district a 24/7 walkable and environmentally sustainable downtown, with mixed income residential and retail spaces that are active day and night, infusing downtown with life.

"Today, when we have billions in development going on, it may be easy to forget that not so long ago, Newark was a city where developers feared to come and invest, where the entire city had a heavy red line around it," Baraka said. "This is a time to honor those who had the vision to invest in Newark when others did not. Today is a day to salute Boraie Development, Shaquille O'Neal, Goldman Sachs, Prudential, and our new finance partners to the City of Newark, Citibank and Bridge Development Group for their continued investment in our city."

The project is expected to create approximately 500 construction jobs and 50 permanent jobs.

The project received New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency tax credits awarded in 2018 and a 30-year tax abatement awarded in 2020 from the city of Newark.

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