NEWARK, N.J. — Hundreds of Newark residents gathered in Washington Park Saturday evening for the Sixth Annual Holiday Tree Lighting.

Hosted by The Newark Downtown District, the free community event had a variety of food trucks, giveaways, live-music and children’s activities. In addition to the activities, families were able to enjoy a photo-op with Santa Claus and participate in a live countdown to the lighting of the park’s Christmas tree.

Kickstarting the event were opening remarks from Anthony McMillan, executive director of the Newark Downtown District and members of the City of Newark, including Council President Mildred Crump and Councilman Luis Quitana. In addition to giving remarks, Mayor Ras J. Baraka counted-down with the crowd for the lighting of the tree.

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“It is an opportunity for people to come together and revitalize,” says Baraka. “These
events draw more people to the park and to the area to see it being activated.”

The Newark Downtown District’s tree lighting event played a role in the organization’s mission, which is to increase the economic viability of the central business district and bring more people into the city.

“I’m from Newark, and I grew up in Newark,” says McMillan. “I traveled to many cities in this country and I loved the holiday festivities. I hadn’t seen it here like I had seen it in other cities, so I felt an obligation to make sure that our kids had that same Christmas cheer.”

The Newark Downtown District is in partnership with the City of Newark, Audible, and the Washington Park Conservancy to create the holiday event. Community Engagement Coordinator of Audible Monique Jones believes that the tree lighting enlightened and uplifted the community.

“The Newark Downtown District’s Sixth Annual Holiday Tree Lighting in Washington Park was an uplifting event, bringing unity, good cheer, and well wishes to members of our valued community,” says Jones.

Being a relatively new organization founded this year, TWP Conservancy aims to enhance the lives of those neighboring the park through preservation, development, and park activations such as the tree lighting. The founding members of the conservancy is 31-year-old Goldin Martinez and 46-year-old Frank Raffaele.

Raffaele says that the Marcal Group and the Berger Organization have participated in a joint effort to financially support the park and help turn it into
a space accessible to the community.

“These guys understand the real importance of having strong communities and great
neighborhoods,” says Raffaele. “They understand that parks are great solutions for getting neighborhoods to where they want to be. We are thankful that they stepped in to get the park where it needs to be and still going.”

The building in front of Washington Park, 33 Washington St., is jointly owned by the Berger Organization and the Marcal Group, a real estate company based in Brooklyn, N.Y.

The CEO of the Marcal Group, 47-year-old Mark Caller, has had a presence with his company in Newark for over 20 years, owning and operating multiple family and office buildings throughout the city.

Their first transformation was of the Park West Condominium Development near Weequahic Park. A few years later, the Marcal Group, having the same objectives as the Berger Organization, jointly bought 33 Washington, seeing it as a good investment while companies such as Audible continued to grow their footprint within the community.

“We saw 33 Washington as being a future building that would attract great technology-based companies,” says Caller. “But even with all the benefits Newark has to offer, having a park that was in a state of neglect and being more of a concern than a benefit, we realized that it would present challenges for people who were going to live there and have to walk past there, especially when it gets dark.”

Concerned about the state of the neglected park, Caller met with Martinez and Raffaele in efforts to seek an initiative that would help turn Washington Park into a safe and suitable environment for those that lived and worked nearby. Joining Miles Berger of the Berger Organization, Caller and Berger decided to lead by example by being the catalyst to fund TWP Conservancy.

“We realized that unless someone was going to begin writing checks nothing was going to happen,” says Caller. “Although we felt very strongly for a team effort and investment from others, we created this conservancy in order to solicit and get other stakeholders to participate financially, and work with the city to see how we can rehabilitate this park.”

Washington Park’s tree lighting is an example of the conservancy’s rehabilitation efforts creating positive change for the community. Previously attracting homeless residents, the park is now becoming a safe space for people to go to and is changing in a way it has never done before.

“With the leadership of the mayor, who has shown an interest in making the necessary
improvements for the city and working with business owners as well, we feel that Newark is really taking the next steps and can compete with any other city in New Jersey to attract talent, real businesses, and new residents.”

According to the CEO of TWP Conservancy Goldin Martinez, Saturday’s event will be one of the many successes for the park.

“Community activation is a way to bring families as stakeholders together,” he says. “We were able to accomplish that in a way that embodies the holiday spirit. We plan on making it a  tradition and want it to continue growing.”

To learn more about TWP Conservancy, click here.