By Briana Vannozzi
Military Park in Newark, with it’s deeply rooted history as a training ground for soldiers, served as the perfect backdrop for the annual Memorial Day observance and wreath laying, honoring the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces.
It’s just one of many events expected to be held in the four and a half acre park now that renovations are complete and revitalization is in full swing. It’s been a long time coming, but the park’s makeover is complete.
“The lights were mostly out. Graffiti. Some broken pieces in the capital plant, No flowers, which is always a sign that nobody is in charge. Litter,” said Dan Biederman, architect with Biederman Redevelopment Ventures.
Biederman is the brains behind the renovation. Best known for his role in turning around Bryant Park in Manhattan, also once a downtrodden and drug-laden space. But he’s got the formula for success down.
“Women are your best park users to watch because they really vote with their feet they don’t go to places that feel endangered and we got a tremendous lunch time business of women from the surrounding office buildings,” Biderman said.
“It’s something that I think that’s needed by the entire Newark community. Not just people who are working here, not just people who live in the Ironbound but all over Newark. We need more green spaces, we need more safe spaces for everybody to be,” said Amy Brown.
New concrete pathways, Victorian-style lampposts dotting the park’s perimeter, vibrant flowers, public restrooms and moveable furniture to name a few changes.
“It’s welcoming now. It’s something that makes you want to come out here and sit down and have conversation, read a magazine, use your laptop, whatever. Prior to the renovations, it was park you didn’t want to stop and sit in,” said Ramone Villanueva.
And in addition to the physical upgrades, a reading room, playground and daily programs like yoga and Tai Chi draw visitors. A restaurant is also planned to open by August.
“It actually has a open book section, it has puzzles over there that the mother and children can play with together. It’s great,” said Aaisha Smith.
It’s funded through a public-private partnership and cost about $5 million, the bulk of which came from MCJ Amelior Foundation and Prudential Financial — an anchor in the city. So far, Beiderman says projections for the park’s sustainability are on target.
“We’re aiming for 400 people at a peak by the end of the summer and that will look very crowded. People will stop and stare because they aren’t used to people being in Military Park,” Biederman said.
Many say the park has the potential to become Newark’s town square. It’s within walking distance of major institutions like Rutgers Business and Seton Hall Law School. And just take a look around. Revitalization is just getting started.
“It will make sure that people just don’t come anymore to Newark and just go to the Gateway, never see the streets. We want people to see the streets, the pavement on the city, that we have a great city,” said Newark Mayor Luis Quintana.
Over time it’s expected Military Park will attract more corporate sponsors and generate about $2 million a year to sustain itself.