By Erin Delmore
“Nothing says big like a Whole Foods coming into town,” said Aisha Glover, Acting President and CEO of the Newark Community Economic Development Corporation.
A gleaming new supermarket — right in downtown Newark. At 29,000 square feet it is big, but is it a sign of the rebirth the city’s been hailing and hoping for?
“We’ve heard about it so many times, even when I was a kid growing up, that Newark is turning a corner. I’m glad to say today we’ve turned that corner,” said Newark Mayor Ras Baraka.
To hear Vogue magazine tell it: Newark’s now “a travel destination”, to the New York Post: “Vogue’s take on Newark is wildly tone-deaf.” Bloomberg splits the difference: “In Shadow of Manhattan, a Troubled City Is Having a Moment.”
“Newark has historically had a perception issue,” said Debra Tantleff, founding principal at TANTUM. “And I think what the domino effect that the city’s experiencing today is there’s this critical mass of investment that’s coming.”
“The transportation infrastructure is a tremendous positive. The cons historically have been crime. Let’s not be ignorant of that. Newark has for years had a branding issue with respect to crime. There’s a sense that that’s beginning to change,” said John Boyd, principal of The Boyd Group.
It’s been 50 years since riots swept Newark’s streets. The political, economic, and racial impact still felt. Nearly one in three Newarkers — mostly black and Hispanic — live below the poverty line, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Rows of vacant homes line the streets.
Newark’s newest supermarket is making its home in the historic Haines building — a shopping center that was abandoned for years.
“When a Whole Foods moves in, property values go up. But there’s also an energy that can’t be overstated,” Glover said.
“I normally go to the one in Millburn or more Central Jersey, but now I don’t have to do that anymore,” said Newark resident Tighe Rouse.
It’s the latest in a slew of new retail centers, restaurants, office spaces and high-rise apartment buildings: 2,000 new residential units since 2014 and another 2,000 greenlit last year. And, a financial services firm is leasing 160,000 square feet in Two Gateway Center bringing 1,000 jobs.
“We’ve been saying it’s on the rise for several years but now I think it’s finally reached that peak point. I came from Brooklyn so I know what that looks like and that feels like,” Glover said.
While Brooklyn is a buzzword for booming commercial and real estate development, that infusion of new growth — and new money — pushed longtime residents out.
“There’s always a fear of gentrification in terms of any municipality that’s undergoing development. And Newark is being very forward-thinking in its affordable housing policies and obligations and making sure that it’s not a constant displacement of people,” said Tantleff.