The last decade brought a surge of development to Newark that has helped to further transform the city’s downtown as well as other neighborhoods further afield. But it has also raised concern about the potential for gentrification.
While Newark is far from becoming gentrified like Jersey City, Hoboken and Brooklyn, the city has started to see new luxury residential developments in the downtown along with the opening of a Whole Foods, a harbinger of gentrification in many other urban communities around the country.
The latest development boom started under Mayor Cory Booker, then stalled during the 2008 recession and picked up steam toward the end of his administration. It has continued unabated under the administration of Mayor Ras Baraka.
Hoping to curb gentrification before it’s too late, Baraka in Dec. 2018 created a new Equitable Growth Advisory Commission comprised of 15 members from the community, academia, businesses and nonprofits to make recommendations to the city on topics about land use laws, housing and bidding.
“We do not want to wait for the market to dictate to us how to develop and move in our city,” Baraka said at the time. “We want to influence the market, but we also want to use some of those market forces against itself. So we're going to use some of those market forces to create something different than what the market kind of anticipates.”
Baraka also pushed for an inclusionary zoning ordinance in 2017 that was approved by the City Council requiring all new residential and mixed-use developments with more than 30 units to set aside 20% of apartments as low-income housing.
Perhaps no other project has been the catalyst for more subsequent development than the Prudential Financial office tower built upon a former surface parking lot between Broad and Halsey streets, across the street from Military Park.
The $444 million, 20-story, 740,000-square foot building features an outdoor park perched five floors above street level, opened in September 2015. It was subsidized by state taxpayers through a 10-year Urban Transit Hub state tax credit worth up to $210.8 million.
The project spurred other development along what was previously a forlorn stretch of Broad Street. A long abandoned building that was once home to S. Klein on the Square was torn down as part of Prudential’s redevelopment plans. In its place, a one story commercial building was constructed that now houses a Starbucks.
On the other side, another long abandoned department store, Hahne & Co., got a new life as a mixed use residential, office and retail complex featuring the Whole Foods market and Petco, which recently shuttered.
The Hahne & Co. building also has space for Rutgers University-Newark, which moved its bookstore to the Halsey Street side of the building. The university continues its march toward from Martin Luther King Boulevard eastward to Halsey Street. Across from Prudential’s new office tower is Rutgers’ honors college, which is nearing completion.
Construction of the honors college also spurred a complete overhaul of one of the city’s iconic Irish pubs, McGovern’s, which recently reopened after a two-year renovation.
Across the street from Prudential Financial, Military Park received a facelift with the financial help of Prudential. The park, which was once home to drug dealers and homeless, was redeveloped by Daniel A. Biederman, an urban park guru who previously transformed Bryant Park in New York City into a thriving oasis.
When the park opened in 2015, it featured tables and chairs for dining, ping-pong tables, newspaper racks, and a burger restaurant with an outdoor beer garden in the summer. A weed-strewn fountain was replanted with pink begonias.
In the last two years, however, the park has fallen on hard times as private donations needed for upkeep dried up. This past summer, the weeds reclaimed sword and homeless have returned, though the park remains a draw for those who work and live around it.
On the other side of Military Park and across from NJPAC, the long awaited One Theater Square opened in October 2018. The 22-story tower at 2 Center St. features a fitness center, yoga studio, high-end finishes and boasts sprawling views of Newark’s cityscape and Manhattan’s skyline from balconies.
The 245-unit building consists of studio, one, two and three-bedroom apartments and has 285 on-site parking spots and space for four retail shops.
While One Theater Square bills itself as a luxury building, 24 units were set aside as affordable housing units. More than 700 people entered a lottery for the apartments, indicating a huge demand for affordable housing in the city.
From the Series: Top Newark Stories of the Decade