NEWARK,NJ — City council authorized a slew of private redevelopment deals and contract agreements on Wednesday, signaling a will to drive forward the city’s goals to revitalize its neighborhoods despite its impending financial woes.
Council voted on 18 projects ranging from small property rehabilitation projects to mixed-use buildings, including a four-story hydroponic farm with a farmer’s market, office space and affordable housing. The long-awaited Peddler’s Square redevelopment agreement was also awarded to Brandywine Acquisitions and Development for $7,450,000.
Brandywine additionally received $1,200,000 to redevelop the Bergen Street Police and Fire Training Academy as part of a public-private partnership entered into under the local Redevelopment Housing Law.
Some city council members expressed a desire to hold off on the Brandywine agreement until a budget presentation could be made available but ultimately decided to move forward.
“The area is in desperate need of development on that side of town,” Central Ward Councilwoman LaMonica McIver said. “I do agree that we need a presentation at some point.”
Other development coming to the city include office space with supported housing for the homeless and re-entry residents and a 48-unit residential building on Bergen Street. Deputy Mayor and Economic and Housing Director Allison Ladd said some projects, like those providing affordable housing, will be considered essential under the state’s executive order and permitted to begin construction upon transfer of ownership or effective date for contract agreements.
But with markets spiraling in the wake of coronavirus fallout, it remains to be seen whether developers will be left with empty office, retail and apartment space when construction is complete.
Ladd said while the world is awash in uncertainty, the city is still proceeding with its aggressive urban renewal plans with the hope of giving its residents the spaces they deserve. From the rebirth of the historic Hahne & Co. building to sites like One Theater Square, the past decade has yielded transformation for Newark that city officials feel more determined to uphold in the face of potential economic ruin.
In April, Mayor Ras Baraka announced that the city is drowning in revenue losses and expenditures due to the coronavirus that could result in a $143 million budget impact without funding. The administration is, like municipalities across the state, staving off layoffs and furloughs while it can.
“It’s important for us to find solutions to do development in our city, whether it’s pre-COVID-19 or today,” Ladd said. “I believe that’s what our responsibility is in Economic and Housing Development. I’m still very optimistic about the work that we’re doing.
Part of that work is private sales — which means transforming vacant and blighted assets — and tax abatements for new, larger projects. Ladd said her department is starting to see more progress on those projects in recent weeks.
Newark's new $5-million Land Bank Agreement also hopes to see the nonprofit Invest Newark purchase and redevelop those dilapidated properties throughout the city. The goal is not just to capitalize on them, but to increase local homeownership through a special Section 8 program.
While the virus’ impact on the housing market is still unknown, Aisha Glover, CEO of Newark Alliance and former CEO of Newark Community Economic Development Corp., said that like Ladd, she’s looking at redevelopment as a cornerstone of post-COVID recovery.
“As much as this is certainly first and foremost a public health issue, what we have not yet seen the mass effect of is around local economics, and really community redevelopment,” Glover said. “I think development plays a critical role there and I think it has to be intentionally tied to neighborhoods and place-based efforts, and more efforts to connect local residents to homeownership.”