NEWARK, NJ - The once-vacant Second Presbyterian Church on the corner of James and Washington streets is now home to 400 Audible technologists and designers.
Preserved stained glass windows now serve as the backdrop for the audiobook giant’s employees, who also get to enjoy amenities like a refurbished bowling alley and cafe. The new office space sits about one block from the company’s headquarters, which moved to Newark from Wayne in 2007.
"...The fact that [this building] was a dead building for 25 years really is kind of a metaphor of the deprivation and decline in Newark as well as, I think, a metaphor for the wonderful comeback that we've used to define the company,” said Audible founder and CEO Don Katz.
The church was established in 1811 and endured through a fire in the 1930s. A decline in congregant population around 1995 caused it to shut down and it’s been sitting vacant ever since.
The 80,000-square-foot office space preserved the church’s outer facade and was appropriately dubbed the Innovation Cathedral. The bowling alley was also leftover from a youth community center that was once housed at the site.
Audible, a subsidiary of Amazon, has become one of the city’s fastest-growing private employers since moving here more than a decade ago. It started out with 100 full-time employees and now has more than 1,650.
Today, the completion of the nearly four-year project in the city’s Downtown was celebrated by state and local leaders -- and even a presidential hopeful via video.
“I am so thrilled about Audible,” said former mayor and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker. “In fact, it was one of the first companies - if not the first real, major company - to come to Newark when I was mayor of the city. But now, the partnership between audible and Newark and our Mayor Ras Baraka, it is incredible.”
Audible gives gift cards to employees to explore different restaurants in the area, bringing business to local shops. It also provides employees living in Newark with a $500 monthly subsidy toward housing expenses. The program, the company said, has doubled the number of employees living in Newark.
The company also provides Fire tablets to all Newark students and offers a paid internship program to high schoolers at North Star Academy and Science Park High School.
“I love that I know so many Audible employees,” said Aisha Glover, President and CEO of Newark Alliance. “Like when can you really say that? It speaks volumes because that means they're working across departments in every way that they can and really think about what partnership looks like. This is not a community affairs person.”
The state Economic Development Authority reportedly approved a 10-year, $39.3 million tax incentive in 2015 for the project.