Deal is inked: Newark Bears stadium will be razed, replaced

By Jessica Mazzola | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on November 15, 2016

 

NEWARK — The sale of an ill-fated stadium once touted as a saving grace for a Newark neighborhood is now final, and plans are underway for a redevelopment that officials say will really revitalize the city's downtown.

Newark and Essex County have closed on a deal to sell the vacant Bears and Eagles Riverfront Stadium to the Lotus Equity Group, Mayor Ras Baraka and County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo announced last week.

The $23.5 million sale will mark the end of the stadium, which was built in 1998 for about $34 million, and has been mostly empty since the minor league Newark Bears baseball team folded in 2014

The stadium was owned by the Essex County Improvement Authority, which owned and managed the stadium on behalf of the city and county.

Lotus plans to turn the stadium and about 7.5 acres of surrounding land into a mixed-use development that includes 2.3 million square feet of residential, office, retail and cultural space, city and county officials said.

"The Lotus development project will bring jobs, housing and new opportunities to Newarkers," Baraka said in a statement.

"This project anchors our downtown development activities and brings new living and working options to current residents, students and those looking to make Newark their home."

The exact details of the deal and plans for the project were not immediately released, but city officials previously told NJ Advance Media Lotus would be eligible for a tax abatement on the project, as long as it hires Newark residents in the construction and operation of the development.

It is unclear when demolition of the stadium and construction on the new development will begin, but Lotus CEO Ben Korman said the finished product will be both "dynamic and sustainable."

The development, which officials have said could include as many as 1,500 apartment units, "will create a pedestrian-friendly and vibrant atmosphere for existing and new residents to live, work, and play," Korman said.

"This truly is a premier site offering unparalleled connectivity in the heart of a culturally rich and diverse community, and we look forward to collaborating with the city to realize its transformation into a 24/7 neighborhood destination." 

The site's proximity to NJ Transit, major highways, and University Heights, will make it marketable to commuters and students, officials said.

The sale ends the tumultuous 18-year history of the stadium, which struggled to attract a fan base.

Despite two league championships and a rotating roster of high-profile players, the Newark Bears rarely filled the park.

After declaring bankruptcy, going through ownership and league changes, and a series of failed rejuvenation attempts, the team officially folded in 2014. Since then, the stadium has hosted NJIT, Rutgers-Newark, and high school games and tournaments.

Though it has remained empty for much of the time since the team went under, the stadium has continued to cost taxpayers in Newark and Essex County $2 million a year.

DiVincenzo praised the finalized sale as a good thing for residents.

"The project brings new energy to Newark and Essex County and will create business, residential and entertainment opportunities and much needed activity to that area of the city," he said.

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