Newark Mayor Ras Baraka told an assembly of regional business leaders that both the business community and city residents must work together for Newark's economic redevelopment to have a positive impact.
"We should have a collective vision going forth," said Baraka on Tuesday before more than 200 members of the Newark Regional Business Partnership (NRBP), a pro-business group that includes nearly 450 corporations, professional firms, small businesses, educational institutions and not-for-profit organizations, all dedicated to strengthening the region’s business infrastructure and revitalizing New Jersey’s largest city.
"We should have one narrative about where the city is, and where's it's going," Baraka said. "And we have to tell that story."
Chip Hallock, President and CEO of the NRBP, and Baraka went back and forth about the ongoing redevelopment in Newark from the dais in the newly-refurbished Crystal Room at the downtown Robert Treat Hotel.
The recent revitalization of Military Park and the Hahne & Co. building apartments, as well as the introduction of an upscale Whole Foods market, was noted. Other soon-to-be-completed projects were discussed, including the Mulberry Commons park near Penn Station and the One Theater Square luxury apartments being built across from the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC).
These initiatives, along with the Teachers Village residential complex and new entertainment ventures on the way such as Barcade, which will offer craft beers and classic video games, are meant to make downtown Newark not just a destination point.
"We want to make downtown a neighborhood," Baraka said. "Millenials want to live in a downtown next to trains and entertainment, and we have to provide for them. The country in turning back to cities, and the city is where it's happening."
Baraka also expressed a desire to ensure that redevelopment radiates throughout Newark. The expansion of both riverfront park access along the Passaic and the potential construction of a PATH station in the South Ward near Newark Airport and Weequahic Park are ways that he believes the city can make this happen.
More importantly, Baraka added that the ongoing effort to enact inclusionary zoning ordinance that would require developers to set aside a percentage of their residential units for affordable housing is critical for the future of Newark.
Baraka underscored that in his mind, Newark is not the next Brooklyn, the New York City borough whose name has become a catchword for urban gentrification.
"Newark is Newark - we can't be something else. We have our own story," Baraka said. "Many people in Brooklyn who were there [before redevelopment] aren't really so happy about it. We have to get tough on that. You have to develop people in the city so that they can be part of development. The inclusionary zoning ordinance leads us in that direction."
Joseph J. Maraziti, Jr., a prominent New Jersey lawyer whose firm, Maraziti Falcon, is based in suburban Short Hills, liked the urban vision depicted in the discussion.
"Mayor Baraka has hit all the right bases," said Maraziti. "What's great about it is that it's not just about the community and it's not just about the business side of things. It's the interface between the two that he stresses over and over again."
With the nexus of politics and business almost inevitable, the question of Baraka's re-election in next year's municipal election came up, with the mayor expressing confidence that he would get another four years from the city's electorate.
When it was pointed out to Baraka that most of the people in the room were not Newark residents and therefore have no say regarding his re-election, Baraka was blunt.
"I'm not here to get people to vote for me. I'm here to get them to do business in the city," Baraka said. "These people can help build our economy and get people jobs. If that makes the city better, and in turn people feel good about their city, then maybe they'll vote for me."