NJPAC celebrates 20 years on September 23, 2017. Photo credit: NJPAC on Flickr

Economic development or gentrification, NJPAC arts neighborhood makes its way to Newark, New Jersey

The New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) announces its new neighborhood redevelopment plan with hopes to transform the current neighborhood into an arts-based haven neighborhood. 

What comes to mind when you hear the word gentrification? For some, the word brings to mind the possibility of economic development. For others,  gentrification means relocation and economic uncertainty. Once again, the City of Newark finds itself trying to answer the question. 

NJPAC has put in a development plan to build their own neighborhood. The 7.3.acre, $150 million project includes low-rise and high-rise multifamily buildings, retail establishments, restaurants and cultural spaces. As well, the new development will include 15 new townhomes and condos along the riverfront. 

“The goal is to create an environment that is really appealing to our Newark residents, but also will give folks from outside of Newark a reason to come down and recreate in a way that is much more than coming to the Arts Center to see a concert, maybe have dinner, and go home,” says NJPAC CEO John Schreiber. 

The devil’s in the details

Schreiber believes that this new project will provide a unique and engaging neighborhood for current Newark residents. The new development plan will implement 330 residential rental units in total; 80 percent of the residential units will be rented at market rate while the other 20 percent will be affordable housing, according to ROI-NJ

Plan details are in line with Newark’s City Council inclusionary zoning ordinance. The legislation  mandates new projects with 30 or more residential units to allocate 20 percent for affordable housing, as reported by Ark Republic. The legislation also requires housing affordable for those who have different income levels ranging from 40 to 80 percent of the area’s median income.

“The redevelopment of NJPAC’s campus will be a game-changing step forward for the evolution of Newark’s downtown, creating an ideal live-work-play environment in the city’s heart — and making more affordable housing available for families of all kinds,” says Newark Mayor, Ras Bakara.

The problem

Although there has been no indication of disdain from elected officials thus far, there have been quite a few whispers of discontentment from residents on social media. 

As well, there are still people who are falling through the cracks. The Newark Department of Affordable Housing reported that the area median income for Newark, NJ HUD Metro area which includes Essex, Union, Morris and Sussex counties was $94,000 in 2020. Thanks to the inclusionary zoning ordinance, housing for 20 percent of residents who earn at least $37,600 per year will be secure. Still, the City of Newark’s median income was $35,199, according to the Newark Department of Affordable Housing, leaving residents who do not meet the income requirements displaced.

Affordable Housing Online reports that there are 280 low income apartments in Essex County, 106 in Union County, 49 in Morris County and 13 in Sussex County presently.

. . . .
Springtime in the Park at NJPAC in 2015. Photo credit: NJPAC on Flickr

Before NJPAC made its debut in 1997, there was a mass exodus of 100,000 Caucasians from Newark in 1967. The beating and arrest of John Smith, an African American taxi driver by police, led to a five day riot leaving 26 dead and 200 injured, according to the NJ Spotlight

As per James Hughes, dean emeritus of Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University, new housing being built around NJPAC has added apartments, charter schools, supermarkets, corporate offices and signify the revitalization of Newark.

“The construction of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center brought suburbanites back into Newark to enjoy the arts and maybe enjoy a meal,” said Hughes.

Conversely, the expansion of NJPAC created displacement for barbershops and new opportunities for small businesses who could afford “new high rents,” as reported by Ark Republic. Additionally, gentrification ushered in the arrival of grocery stores such as Whole Foods in 2017. Now, buildings that were once in downtown Newark are being demolished and replaced with mixed use businesses that have Whole Foods on the ground floor.

Today prices continue to increase. Recently, the Newark Post reported that Newark is proposing a one percent tax hike for 2021, in addition to slight increases to water and sewer service. 

. . . .

The NJPAC Arts Neighborhood project is expected to begin in 2022 and is estimated to be completed by 2024, according NJ BIZ

“‘Gentrification’ is but a more pleasing name for white supremacy…It is the interest on enslavement, the interest on Jim Crow, the interest on redlining, compounding across the years,” says New York Times Best Selling Author, Ta-Nehisi Coates.

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