Located just a few miles west of Manhattan, Newark, N.J., is the Garden State’s largest and oldest city, dating back to the end of the 17th century. And for the past few decades it has been showing its age. But thanks to the efforts of a young, aggressive mayor (Cory Booker), streamlined permitting, and a community ready for a resurgence, Brick City is making a comeback. Many residents feel Newark is undergoing what local architect and planner Jerome Eben describes as “an urban transformation.” For them, its future is as shiny as the patent leather once produced there.
“The city made it very attractive to purchase many lots for qualified contractors and developers who could improve them,” explains Christopher Stone, past president of the AIA Newark & Suburban Architects chapter and an architectural coordinator at Extech Building Products. Tax abatements, historic tax credits, and other financing tools made development profitable. “They were able to put up new neighborhoods that were cleaner and safer than the ones they replaced,” Stone says.
But the recession didn’t pass the city by. “Like most other areas of the country, private development in Newark has substantially decreased, with housing and commercial real estate discounted while inventory is being absorbed,” notes architect Gregory Comito, president of Gregory Comito and Associates. As a result, a few firms have closed their doors, including the century-old Grad Associates, which designed Newark Liberty International Airport, the Meadlowlands Arena, and the now-demolished Giants Stadium.
Still, hope is alive thanks to federal- and state-funded work. “Because large lending institutions have become overly cautious, government-financed projects will continue to lead the local design and development economy for the foreseeable future,” says William Mikesell, a partner at Newark’s Mikesell & Associates.
More than 282,000 residents; 2009 job growth: -3.4%.
17.8% vacancy rate; average Class A asking rate: $35.32/s.f.
2009 median home sale price: $270,000.
• Proximity to New York
• Diverse population
• Activist local government
• Low percentage of home ownership
• Poor access to healthcare
• Legacy of generational poverty
“The next five years will be difficult,” says AIA Newark past president Christopher Stone. “However, the next 10 years will bring improvements. … Those cornering the market on city property will see an opportunity to make improvements and profits, which will attract residents and business, which will drive the engine of change further.”