NEWARK, NJ.. (PIX 11)—A look at the Prudential Center in Newark is representative of the condition in which New Jersey's largest city finds itself: The Rock, as the Prudential Center is nicknamed, has become, in its four years of operation, the third most booked arena in the country, and 24th in the world.
Across the street, are parking lots and empty weed-covered blocks that were supposed to by now be a proud, new urban park, called Triangle Park. After spending $12 million to develop and acquire private land for the park project, it is still not built, and the first thing that some people associate with this city of 280,000 is violence and crime, even though it dropped off the top of New Jersey's list of most crime-ridden cities years ago.
But Newark's reputation may actually change in most people's minds as it continues to undergo significant changes, thanks to a growing string of recent successes on the part of Newark's mayor and its development chief. They continue to attract major corporate business to the Brick City at a rate that has city leaders nationwide taking notice.
In just the last year, Mayor Cory Booker and Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Stefan Pryor can take credit for luring the following corporate offices to Newark, resulting in some $700 million in construction contracts and 2,500 new, permanent jobs:
-Panasonic's North American Headquarters, which will be located in a 350,000 square foot office tower, the first to be built in Newark in 20 years -Manischewitz's World Headquarters -A Courtyard by Marriott at the Prudential Center, Newark's first new hotel in 40 years -Pitney Bowes's 76,000 square foot international mail center -Bartlett Dairy's 105,000 square foot distribution center -Audible.com's Corporate Headquarters -Newark native Shaquille O'Neal's renovation and two-fold expansion of Newark's only movie theater, Newark Screens
By any account, that level of economic and construction activity is significant, especially considering the city's reputation for violent crime. An unfortunate series of news developments over the 4th of July weekend did not help Newark overcome its reputation. Five people were shot in the city, three fatally, including a corrections officer who was slain by her boyfriend.
What may help the Brick City move beyond its reputation is to put the recent violent crimes into context. The number of shooting deaths in Newark has been cut in half since 2005, thanks to a concerted effort by police to get guns off the streets. At the same time, however, the summer of 2010 saw more gun deaths in Newark in 20 years, something the police department is desperately trying not to repeat, despite last weekend's violence.
Acting police director Samuel DeMaio said in a newsconference about the situation that his department, which saw its ranks decline by 12% late last year due to budget cuts, needs the public's help to prevent violent crime. "We know that no one wants to be a snitch," DeMaio said, "but people can call us anonymously to report a gun."
PIX11 News contacted Mayor Booker Wednesday, seeking comment about the crime situation and the not-yet-begun park project, but the mayor, a firm believer in the power of economic development to reduce crime by increasing employment and the tax base, is in Sun Valley, Idaho at the Allen & Company Conference. It's an annual retreat that attracts some of the biggest names in business, politics and philanthropy, and it often results in big deals made among its participants.
Considering that Cory Booker has been invited to speak on a panel at the conference this year, it may come as little surprise that he's expecting to attract even more construction and commerce spending to his city next year. The mayor and his development team predict that as much as $1 billion dollars will flow into Newark in 2012.