Even on chilly winter days, Military Park is bustling with activity, following this historic park’s multi-million-dollar transformation into an epicenter of downtown city life.
The triangular six-acre park – between Park Place, Broad and Rector streets and in the shadow of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), the Robert Treat Center and the gleaming, new Prudential tower – has become a premier venue for outdoor fitness and dance classes, open-air concerts, movie screenings, table tennis and people just seeking a green urban oasis.
After decades of being underused and overlooked, Military Park underwent a $3.8 million transformation through the Military Park Partnership, a nonprofit corporation that now manages and operates it.
Behind that partnership is Manhattan-based Biederman Redevelopment Ventures (BRV), which retained Matrix New World Engineering of Florham Park to handle civil engineering, landscape architecture and provide construction support for most the work that has been completed and is still ongoing at Military Park.
“Matrix’s contributions were invaluable,” said Benjamin Donsky, BRV’s project manager for the park. “We had a set of challenging conceptual objectives and a limited budget to make this park welcoming and accommodate new activities. Matrix made it all happen.”
William D. Reimer, director of landscape architecture for Matrix, said the Military Park project reconfigured a plaza at it southern tip, restoring its “Great Lawn,” pruning or removing overgrown trees, creating two acres of new gardens and turning the park’s iconic sword-shaped reflecting pool into an enormous seasonal floral bed.
“Transforming this urban park meant being ever-mindful of its historical significance and community value,” said Reimer, noting that Military Park traces its roots to 1667, when the city was first being planned. Until 1869, it was a training ground for soldiers.
“We had to design a park that met the modern needs of a transforming downtown and corporate center, yet maintaining the historical flavor of a park that has been a city landmark for centuries. It was a challenge we were eager to take,” Reimer said.
Donsky credited Matrix with resolving complex drainage issues at the park’s southern end and meeting the challenges of a new pedestrian plaza at the park’s northern end, off Rector Street, to provide outdoor seating for the park’s restaurant, Burg: Burgers & Taps, which opened in 2015.
The park sits atop a city-owned, three-level underground public parking garage, said Donsky, explaining that the “design expertise Matrix provided allowed us to deliver all the necessary utilities for the restaurant and create a plaza where it sits, or actually floats, on top of the garage.”
Ahead for Military Park, Donsky said, are plans to improve to the garage’s entrance, make more aesthetic park enhancements, and get water flowing once more from the park’s Temperance Fountain that dates back to the 1920s Prohibition era.
“We can count on Matrix to make it happen,” he said.
Matrix has built a solid track record for urban park revitalization. For instance, its engineers and landscape architects were behind an extensive $2.8 million enhancements unveiled last July at the City of New Brunswick’s Recreation Park, Reimer said.
New Brunswick officials turned to Matrix to design a host of new features for Recreation Park, including the city’s first skateboard park and a water spray area, a new children’s playground, more basketball courts and improved athletic fields, public restrooms and parking areas.
When Newark’s revitalized Military Park reopened in 2014, it quickly became a popular downtown gathering spot for the city residents, the business community and visitors.
To encourage greater use, the Military Park Partnership offers special public programs and, weather permitting, weekly outdoor classes in yoga, hip-hop dance, Tai Chi, karate and Zumba. The park’s southern plaza is now a favorite venue for pick-up chess games, ping-pong matches and an outdoor reading area, with complimentary newspapers.