City officials announced today that construction is beginning on a 4-acre expansion of Riverfront Park along the Passaic River, the next step in efforts to expand the park to nearly 40 acres over a three-mile stretch of land.

The expansion is due in part to a public-private partnership between the City of Newark, The Trust for Public Land, The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, which are collectively contributing grant monies of more than $6 million for park construction and amenities.

The next phase of construction will also create pedestrian access under the Jackson Street Bridge, providing more convenient access from downtown Newark to the city’s East Ward. The expansion will improve park lighting, create new and update existing walking paths and include other facilities and services.

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“Our continued work on Riverfront Park allows the Passaic River to serve as a front-door into the City,” said Mayor Ras J. Baraka. “Partnerships like the one we have here with The Trust for Public Land, The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and Essex County ensure that residents and visitors alike benefit from the City’s growth and prosperity. Riverfront Park shows what can be accomplished by working together.”

The riverfront park system, developed in partnership with the City of Newark, The Trust for Public Land, and Essex County’s Parks Department, currently includes a baseball diamond, playing fields for soccer and football, as well as courts for tennis and basketball. There are also walking paths, a bikeway, a riverfront boardwalk, a floating dock and playgrounds, along with signs detailing the history of the area.

“In addition to providing a great outdoor space for city residents and downtown workers to enjoy Newark’s riverfront, our partnership is helping to create a healthier community,” said Anthony Cucchi, New Jersey state director for The Trust for Public Land. “For example, the park’s expansion will soon provide a Fitness Zone to exercise in, a new dedicated lane for cyclists, and the Horizon Wellness Trail to connect Newark’s Ironbound neighborhood with downtown Newark.”

Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, through its charitable arm -- The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey -- is one of several organizations committed to redeveloping the riverfront, creating new walkways and ensuring that all park visitors have access to fitness facilities and choices that encourage people to engage in healthy lifestyle activities. The Horizon Foundation has provided $250,000 for park construction and the development of a wellness trail that will connect Newark’s Ironbound community with downtown Newark.

“As a Newark-based company for 84 years, Horizon believes that the riverfront is a valued natural resource that can bring city neighborhoods together and through its development, can open new doors to wellness and recreational opportunities for community residents and downtown workers alike,” said Robert A. Marino, Horizon BCBSNJ chairman & CEO and The Horizon Foundation Board chairman.

Lead funding for the riverfront park system, including $5.3 million grant from the state’s Office of Natural Resource Restoration for this current phase of construction, has come from New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

“The Christie Administration is proud to be a key partner in the development of Riverfront Park, which is helping to transform the Newark waterfront by and reconnecting residents to the Passaic River through creation of green space and recreational opportunities,” said state Environmental Commissioner Bob Martin.

In addition to NJDEP, other key partners include Essex County, The Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Greenspaces - a Fund of the Community Foundation of New Jersey, The Prudential Foundation, Richmond County Savings Foundation and the Victoria Foundation.

The partnership also secured public grants from the New Jersey Hazardous Discharge Site Remediation Fund, the Newark Urban Enterprise Zone Authority, the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund, and other sources.

The City of Newark and the Newark Community EDC plan to continue expansion of the park in the summer of 2017, eventually extending to 4th Avenue.