NEWARK, NJ – As Newark prepares to petition the state to designate the half-mile around
Market Street and Mayor Kenneth A. Gibson Boulevard as a transit village, city officials recently made the case for taking a more holistic approach to downtown development.
“As you and I both travel around the city and the downtown corridor we can see how there could
be areas of improvement, there could be areas of synergy,” said Deputy Mayor and Director of
Economic and Housing Development Allison Ladd. “But there’s definitely areas in need for us to
access additional resources.”
Chris Watson, the city’s chief planning officer, said that recognition as a transit village will unlock
funding from the state for development that makes the area more transit-oriented. That would
mean placing mixed-use properties, pedestrians, bicyclists and more accessible and efficient
public transportation options at the forefront of future development.
City officials held two public outreach events – one at City Hall last Tuesday and another at
Express Newark on Saturday – to gather input from the community. The city plans to submit its
application to the state task force in February, assuming the City Council adopts a supporting
resolution at its Feb. 2 meeting.
If the state approves the application, development in the area will get priority funding and
technical assistance from various state agencies and can secure grants from the state
Department of Transportation.
Mayor Ras Baraka sees the designation as a tool to give the City greater control over
development. With the city owning little property downtown – leaving much of what happens, or
doesn’t, in the hands of developers – the designation would allow officials to require specific
criteria to be met by developers.
He said that market forces already drive much of what happens in Newark and the city needs to
have a greater say in prioritizing mixed-use and -income development downtown.
“We talk about equitability and affordability and all these things like a magic word,” said Baraka.
“People all over the country are struggling with these things because it’s very difficult to do. The
market does not support what we’re trying to do, so we have to put things in place.”
Baraka likened the increased interest in Newark to an avalanche and the transit village
designation as a bulwark against the city suffocating under a wave of new development.
“You can’t stop it moving so you build structures so you won’t be crushed,” he said. “When
development starts in this area the forces of capital are going to push and push and if you don’t
protect yourself you will be crushed.”
Officials pointed to the City of Orange as an example. Following the designation from the state
in 2009 for an area around its NJ Transit train station, the state Housing and Mortgage Finance
Agency awarded $13 million to Linc32, a 113-unit mixed-income and mixed-use apartment
building that’s steps away from the train station.
Citing the development in Orange, Ladd asked residents if they wouldn’t “love it if we had an
ability to access these resources to do more fixed-income housing and create more inclusive
Linc32 contains 6,000 square feet of retail space, something Baraka sees as essential in
transforming Newark’s downtown into a desirable shopping location. He said residents of the
Weequahic section, where the mayor lives, spend $100 million a year outside of Newark. He
sees a downtown transit village as a way to keep that money in the city.
“We spend $100 million a year outside the city of Newark on food and clothing and electronics
and we have to do something about that. We can’t leave things to chance and then go hang out
at other people’s cities, which is what we do,” he said.