Newark, NJ is getting some new amenities, including one 22-acre real estate project downtown (with its own High Line, sort of) and a mixed retail/residential complex that includes a Whole Foods and a Barnes & Noble. These are welcome developments in a long-suffering city, but some locals are concerned the changes will drive up rents, making life difficult for longtime residents while young newcomers theoretically transform Newark into its own Brooklyn.
Last month, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka announced two major revitalization projects. The first, Mulberry Commons, is a 22-acre public-private redevelopment project that will connect the city's popular Ironbound neighborhood to Newark Penn Station via a raised pedestrian bridge—the $110 million development will also include a 3-acre park, residences, and retail space. Developers have seemingly modeled the project after the High Line, which brought businesses, tourism and residences to Manhattan's West Side. "Mulberry Commons is the catalyst we’re waiting for, the catalyst to raise the value of property and also bring people to an essential location of the city where they can hang out, live and play,” Baraka said of the development when it was announced.
The second project involves the redevelopment of the old Hahne & Co. department store—the building had been vacant since 1987, but reopened as public space at the end of January, with a Whole Foods expected to open this winter, along with a Barnes & Noble Rutgers bookstore and a new restaurant helmed by Red Rooster's Marcus Samuelsson. The development will also include residential apartments, 40 percent of which have been set aside as affordable units.
Baraka's excited about the new projects, but according to WNYC, the developments are raising concerns that lifelong residents will be pushed out in favor of wealthier newcomers. The outlet interviewed a number of locals expressing fear of gentrification. One such interviewee, lifelong resident Alikah Green, 26, told the station she's happy the mayor is fixing the city. "It looked like a dump, like two, three years ago. I come downtown now, I see Whole Foods down there. I'm like 'wow, they got Chipotle, Whole Foods.'"
But she also noted that newer residents have higher paying jobs at Panasonic and Prudential than longtime locals. The median household income was only $30,966 in 2015, as opposed to $72,222 in the rest of the state, and the average gross rent was $978. Though Baraka announced at the Hahnes opening that, "We'll all be included" in Newark's revitalization, the market-rate price of a new loft downtown starts around $2,000/month. "I would love to move in one of those apartments downtown," Green told WNYC. "The cost of rent is going to be so high, so I'm not sure."
In 2016, Newark's crime rate was at the lowest it's been since 1967, though its rate of violent crime per 100,000 residents is still about 25 percent higher than the national average. Still, for folks looking for lower rent, it's not a terrible commute to Manhattan—it takes about 30 minutes to get from downtown Newark to Manhattan, or 18 to 22 minutes via rail transit.
Watch out, Newark—the Vogue write-ups are just around the corner.