Newark Mayor Ras Baraka speaks Thursday at the opening of Mulberry Commons in downtown Newark.
By Joshua Burd
Developers and city officials gathered in Newark on Thursday to mark a milestone more than a decade in the making — the opening of a new public park adjacent to the Prudential Center, setting the stage for a wave of new investment between the arena and Newark Penn Station.
The park, known as Mulberry Commons, stems from a $10 million project involving the city and a host of downtown property owners, whose competing interests had long stood in the way of the land swaps needed to assemble the site. But with the plaza now open and providing a walkway between the train station and the Prudential Center, stakeholders touted what is yet to come for a largely untapped section of the downtown.
“Everybody was really committed to making sure that this project took place,” Baraka said. “And it was difficult for us to come together, but we got there.
“And good things sometimes take time,” he added. “So I’m not upset that it took 15 years — as long as we get more than 15 years out of it and the impact that it’s going to have is going to last generations — because what you don’t see is all of the development that will take place because of this park, because of those land swaps. You don’t see the residential, the commercial, the restaurants, the retail — all of the activity that’s going to take place down here.”
Located on Mulberry Street between Lafayette Street and Edison Place, Mulberry Commons has opened in what had been a sea of parking lots around the Prudential Center. The project has long been tied to the development of the now 12-year-old venue, but plans were slow to take shape due in part to the disparate ownership interests of the parcels.
Those property owners and stakeholders — which include Edison Properties, J&L Cos. and Boraie Development, along with the New Jersey Devils and the Prudential Center — have credited Baraka with reviving the concept after he took office in 2014. Wasseem Boraie of Boraie Development said as much on Thursday, noting that Baraka was able to help the stakeholders find common ground in what had been a contentious affair.
“This is one gleaming example of where real civic leadership — and Mayor Baraka, I give you and your team all the credit — has now protected the city’s soul,” said Boraie, a vice president with the New Brunswick-based firm. “Every one of the 280,000 residents in the city of Newark can now enjoy the most pristine, most beautiful park in front of a world class facility like the Prudential Center and the best transportation options in the state.
“This is a model for the state of New Jersey and we thank the city of Newark.”
Designed by Sage and Coombe Architects and Supermass Studio Landscape Architect, Mulberry Commons will serve as something of a backyard to Ironside Newark, a roughly 450,000-square-foot office and retail project by Edison Properties. The complex, located on Edison Place and McCarter Highway, is now taking shape within a historic warehouse that the developer is retrofitting, which will become the new headquarters of Mars Wrigley Confectionary and other companies.
The public space is also expected to encourage additional foot traffic and spark other development around the arena, thanks in part to a new pedestrian bridge that will connect the city’s Ironbound section to the Central Ward.
“This park represents way more than just a swath of land between Prudential Center and the train station, where 2 million people might visit for an event,” Hugh Weber, president of the Prudential Center, the Devils and Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment. “This represents a catalyst for a neighborhood to develop and grow from the seeds of what is being created today. And for that we thank the city, we thank the city’s leadership. It would not have happened without the work of many pulling on the rope the same way and we’re grateful to be part of it.”
Other stakeholders were equally bullish on the neighborhood’s future.
“Mulberry Commons celebrates the city’s unique identity while opening the door to unprecedented economic development and opportunity for all,” said Jose Lopez, president of J&L Cos. “With the park, the Prudential Center, Ironside, the future bridge and the developments that will follow, Mulberry Commons will capture the economic, artistic, and cultural potential J&L Companies has always known the city to have. Mulberry Commons is a testament to our family’s love for Newark and embodies Mayor Baraka’s ‘hire, buy, live,’ concept, and what a 21st century city can be.”