Newark creating its version of Atlanta BeltLine – after decades of struggle over plan

By David Pendered

Newark is the latest city to plan its version of the Atlanta BeltLine. This being New Jersey, the arc toward an alt-transit oriented greenspace flanked by mixed use development traveled some gritty ground.

Newark's planned linear park

Newark’s planned linear park and walkway is to link the Ironwood neighborhood, that city’s version of Krog Street, with the Newark Penn Station. Credit: Newark

City leaders announced in January an agreement to end decades of debate over what to do with a blighted section of downtown Newark. They couldn’t have been more effusive:

  • “Decades in the making, this transformative project is expected to bring vast economic benefit to the entire City.”

But wait, there’s more:

  • “The Mulberry Commons team and the City anticipate new jobs and commercial opportunity, a tax boost, secured commitments from developers for future Newark-based projects, a new hub of commerce through the adaptive reuse of a warehouse along McCarter Highway and more.”

Then-mayor, now Democratic U.S. senator, Corey Booker is credited with expanding Newark’s parks system. Still , this downtown parcel was too tough to crack.

Instead, Booker convinced the Trust for Public Land to develop three unused city-owned tracts into playgrounds and a park overlooking the Passaic River, according to a report in governing.com.

The tide turned in favor of the newly announced deal when a major landowner came on board with plans to create Newark’s version of the High Line walkway, in Manhattan, according to a report Tuesday in wsj.com.

Newark warehouse redevelopment

The anchor of Newark’s version of the Atlanta BeltLine is to be a renovated warehouse, much as the Ponce City Market (a former Sears warehouse) anchors the BeltLine near Old Fourth Ward Park. Credit: Newark

In this case, coming on board amounted to $100 million in private funding for an elevated walkway and the conversion of a vacant warehouse – think of the current Ponce City Market, nee Sears warehouse – into retail shops and office space.

As chairman of Edison Properties, Jerry Gottesmann once was a critic of the High Line, according to the wsj.com report. Now, Gottesmann supports a similar concept in Newark on a redevelopment site that is majority-owned by Edison, according to the statement:

  • “Under Mayor Baraka’s leadership, the City, the Newark Community [Economic Development Corp.] and private developers are executing the vision for the park, a pedestrian bridge linking the Ironbound and downtown, as well as the redevelopment of the parcels adjacent to the Prudential Center. At Edison Properties, we’re excited to continue working with the Mayor’s office and the City to move our new ‘Ironside Newark’ office and retail project forward to further the successful transformation of downtown Newark.”
Newark's planned walking path

The red dotted lines park the path of Newark’s planned walking pathway, which is the city’s version of Atlanta’s BeltLine. Credit: Newark

The city announced in January that it was throwing out the window the former plans for creating Triangle Park.

Mulberry Commons is the new name and a statement issued by the city makes the project sound impressive:

  • The entire project encompasses 22 acres in the heart of Newark;
  • The area will be transformed from blight into a 3-acre central park, named Mulberry Commons Park, plus retail shops and restaurants and commercial spaces. Prudential Stadium, an arena and stadium is at this location;
  • A walkway is to connect Newark’s version of Krog Street, named Ironbound, with the park and on to Newark Penn Station;
  • The park is to be open around Labor Day, 2018.

The city’s statement indicates Edison is putting up $100 million dollars. Public funds account for $10 million, according to the statement.

Newark's planned park rooms

This birds-eye view shows the footprint of the smaller parks to be built as part of Newark’s overall plan for the future Mulberry Commons. Credit: Newark

City officials talk as if the sky is the limit for the economic impact of the redevelopment, according to the statement – in excess of $500 million over a period of time the statement didn’t identify.

  • “The City of Newark will benefit from an anticipated economic impact in excess of $500 million, generated from Mulberry Commons’ planned commercial, retail and open, public spaces. In addition to the current $100 million+ in private investment, the initiative will also receive $10 million in public funding.”

As the acting head of Newark’s economic development corporation observed:

  • “Public parks, accessible to all Newarkers and City visitors, not only serve as a place for recreation and refuge, but help drive local economic development through job creation and retail and commercial opportunities. This development effort was truly a collaborative one and we thank all of our partners for making this project possible.”

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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