Artist housing, studios planned at dilapidated former Newark bank

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on November 16, 2015

The former Clinton Trust Company building on Clinton Avenue in Newark's South Ward. The building has been abandoned since at least the 1960s.

 

NEWARK – If you were searching for a symbol of the economic rise and fall of Newark's South Ward, look no further than the one-time Clinton Trust Company.

The towering building on Clinton Avenue, with its stone and exterior and stately columns, was built to convey a sense of solidity to customers before the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation was created to safeguard their accounts.

Officials have trouble recalling exactly when it closed, but it was one of many local institutions that followed longtime residents fleeing for the suburbs during the 1950s and 1960s. In 1968, it sustained major property damage during a flare-up of the riots that had enveloped Newark a year prior – and in the decades since has represented more of a monument to the city's plight than a bygone era of prosperity.

"It's been a symbol of blight for so long. It's just sat there and been allowed to deteriorate," said South Ward Councilman John Sharpe James. "I don't ever remember it being a bank."

At long last, that may all be set to change. On Monday, Mayor Ras Baraka was joined by James and other local stakeholders to break ground on a project to transform the building into a mixed-use haven for artists, poets and other creative types.

Dubbed the "Nina Simone House", the building will feature 27 affordable housing units, a "poet's café", art gallery, performance venue and other communal spaces.

The building's façade will be preserved, though the remainder - including broken windows and graffiti-laden walls - will be demolished.

Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Baye Adofo-Wilson said construction on the new facility should begin in spring, in hopes of welcoming residents sometime next year. Local arts organizations will help screen applicants for the new units, though they must make 60 percent of the area's median income (about $34,000 in 2013, according to census data) or less to be eligible.

The $6.5 million project is being funded by the Newark Community Economic Development Corporation as part of the city's "Model Neighborhood" initiative launched last year, which aims to rehabilitate areas in the Lower West Ward and Clinton Hill sections.

Both areas have had longtime struggles with high rates of crime and blight, and hopes are high that removing one of its oldest eyesores might once again spur some sorely needed growth.

"It' going to be one of the anchors of the commercial corridor (along Clinton Avenue)," said Adofo-Wilson.

"Its something that for my people in my generation, its always been blighted. To see the change happen in the neighborhood in our lifetime...it's really exciting."

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