Passive recreation or retail center: Developers, council struggle over Newark's Triangle Park project

By Naomi Nix | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on February 04, 2015

Pictured is a rendering of Triangle Park produce by Boraie Development LLC, the proposed developer for the project.

 

NEWARK — It was a long time coming but Triangle Park may become a reality in Newark.

Newark's city council voted today on two pieces of legislation which pave the way for Triangle Park to be completed after what officials said was ten years of stagnation.

The council voted today to transfer city land to the Newark Housing Authority for the creation of a park in the shape of the triangle in the blocks of Edison Place, Lafayette Street, McCarter Highway and Mulberry Street.

The council also agreed to take a second vote and hold a public hearing on an ordinance that amends the Newark Downtown Core District Redevelopment and the Newark Plaza Urban Renewal plans for area to include mixed use opportunities for a second vote and public hearing.

Both measures passed with five yes votes. East Ward Councilman Augusto Amador voted against the measures, citing a lack of transparency in the process. North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos abstained, while at-large Councilmen Carlos Gonzalez and Luis Quintana were not present for the vote.

The Newark Housing Authority will manage the development of the Park. Once the project is finished being constructed, the city, which also supports the park, will take over managing it, officials said.

The council's votes arrive after considerable behind-the-scenes debate among council members, developers and the Newark Housing Authority about which company city authorities should choose to produce the project.

In the end, it was Boraie Development LLC, the developer who produced the CityPlex12 on Springfield, that won a contract with the Newark Housing Authority through a public bidding process, the NHA said.

"We are very pleased with today's vote by the Newark City Council. We are confident that this park will re-ignite the development of the city's downtown core," Boraie Development spokesman Tim White said in a statement.

"We will continue to work with the City of Newark and the Newark City Council as we further develop plans for the park project."

Boraie says it plans to build a park with several retail opportunities, which might include a theater, a skating rink, and stores, according to White.

Under Boraie's plan, the developer would hold a longterm lease for the land. White said the company has promised to have financing available.

But Edison Properties continues to tout its own park proposal plan, which calls for a "passive park" with lots of open space and little retail.

Additionally, the company says it will put away $5 million in an escrow account within the month for the project and chip in financing for another long-held plan of the city: building a pedestrian bridge between Newark Penn Station and the Ironbound.

"Edison is prepared to go forward with the development," Tom Banker, a consultant for Edison, said in an interview before the meeting.

TRIANGLE PARK'S LONG ROAD

City officials first envisioned Triangle Park around 2005 as part of its discussions about the building of the Prudential Center arena; In addition to the park and the pedestrian bridge, officials envisioned the area as a centerpiece for new retail, housing and office space that would boost the city's struggling tax base.

Edison Properties says it first agreed to give up some of its land for the creation of the arena to see that this vision became a reality.

"We've been waiting for 10 years, for the Housing Authority and the city to do their part of the deal," Banker said.

But by 2011 the Newark Downtown Core Redevelopment Corporation — the entity responsible for the park's development — had spent close to $12 million without making any progress on the construction of the project.

Several contracts were handed out to well-connected firms and individuals before the Corporation disbanded.

NEW BACKLASH

But Edison Properties, which owns several nearby parking lots and other land, has criticized that proposal.

Primarily, the company says the proposed commercial additions would discourage major companies from relocating to area surrounding the park or investors from building more residential opportunities, company representatives argued.

"We will be lining the back end of a strip mall," Stephen Pearlman, a lawyer representing Edison said in an interview after the meeting. "Edison believes that for residential or office buildings to be successful you need some open space."

During the council meeting, Edison also alleged the amendments violate its agreement with the Newark Housing Authority, of which the city became a party to in 2007, according to Stephen Pearlman, a lawyer representing Edison.

"There are remedies under this agreement," Pearlman told the council. "If this action goes through I fear that Edison has no other choice but to exercise those rights."

"Don't threaten us," responded city council president Mildred Crump.

Central Ward councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield-Jenkins said Edison's accusations and presentations didn't discourage her from voting for the amendments.

"There was no one who went up there today thought if we voted for this that there would not be a lawsuit," the Central Ward councilwoman said in an interview.

Chaneyfield-Jenkins joins other city council members who say they don't have a preference for either developer, but want to see the project completed.

"I want the best developer with the best idea, design to work with the city," West Ward councilman Joe McCallum said in an interview. "We live here so we want to have a say so in what it looks like and what goes here."

The renegotiated development plan will be subject to a second vote by the city council at a later date.

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