Marcus Randolph (center), CEO of Invest Newark attends Invest: North & Central Jersey 2022-2023 launch conference by Capital Analytics Associates alongside Newark's Mayor Ras Baraka (right). “We have to create more opportunities for collaboration, creating regional economies where cities depend on each other,” Mayor Baraka delivered in his opening remarks at the event at Newark Symphony Hall.

Newark’s empty commercial properties might finally find retailers in the city’s latest public-private partnership

4 mins read

Program promises to fill downtown stores left vacant for years with small businesses.

When the pandemic racked many Newark businesses, one agency that kept many afloat was Invest Newark, the city’s leading economic development force. Now, they have launched a program to help businesses and not-for-profit organizations located in Newark’s burgeoning downtown core. The program, known as the Newark Retail Reactivation Initiative, aims to support companies looking to bring more retail, cultural and food experiences to the downtown area in the city’s Central Ward.

“The many residents and visitors already eating and shopping in the heart of Newark and the growing number of people coming downtown to enjoy festivals, concerts and other outdoor events has set the stage for an initiative such as this,” said Invest Newark President and CEO Marcus Randolph. “We hope businesses and organizations interested in locating in the focus area will utilize the different types of support being offered by local entities such as the Newark Alliance, as well as from statewide resources like the Small Business Improvement Grant from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority.”

The Central Ward serves as the financial, social and cultural heartbeat of Newark, and many who live in the surrounding cities and townships. From the city’s only movie theater, Shaquille O’Neal’s CityPlex 12 Newark, to the one of the oldest coffee roasteries in the state, T.M. Ward, on any given day, the foot traffic shows residents, students and city workers popping in-and-out of various establishments.

Also in Newark sits Rutgers University’s Newark campus, Newark Symphony Hall and the Prudential Center sports arena and entertainment venue where the NJ Devils hockey team plays and Tina Turner once performed. Plus, several giant companies that made it their home, like Audible, Panasonic, Mars food corporation, and the signature insurance and investment planning behemoth, Prudential Financial.

Before these enterprises rooted themselves, the downtown district had a number of shops, social clubs and eateries that kept the area thriving. When deindustrialization, civil unrest and white flight ensued in the mid-twentieth century, the decline of the New Jersey metropolis became apparent. The city’s leadership shifted from a predominantly white elected cohort to a predominantly Black and Latino collective over the years. Throughout, there have been numerous attempts to restore economic viability, all the while maintain the city’s cultural identity.

Through the years, the continued instability makes the road a rough trek to travel, especially for longtime Newark residents who have faced multiple waves of gentrification. Even more so for  local small businesses rapidly losing their ability to remain in a city with diminishing patronage and high rents. Like many plans from the administration, the hope is that this program might be the one to work. With Invest Newark’s track record of helping mom-and-pop brick and mortars, there is promise that small businesses will be included as beneficiaries of the retail program that could further diversify the commercial industry situated in renovated downtown shops.

City of Newark and Invest Newark plan to use the Halsey Street corridor as one of the areas of focus. “We’re excited to work with Mayor Baraka and our partners in developing a flexible but focused program to support entrepreneurs and fill the remaining storefront gaps along key downtown corridors like Halsey Street,” said Evan Weiss, President and CEO of the Newark Alliance. Photo credit: Jamal Dummett/Unsplash

“Cities across the country are struggling to revitalize their downtowns. Mayor Baraka and the City of Newark are again leading the way with a bold strategy to both fill empty storefronts and support local small businesses at the same time. This is a winning combination which other cities should look to as a model,” said Todd Rufo of the Economic Development team at Bloomberg Associates.

For the initiative, Invest Newark is partnering with the City of Newark. In turn, they plan to make low-to-no-cost financial assistance available to businesses looking to locate in the focus area. Business operators will be eligible for up to $650,000 in support, depending on the square footage of the storefront. Funds can be used for exterior and interior improvements of the vacant space, or the purchase of furniture, fixtures, and equipment. This program was developed in collaboration with Bloomberg Associates, the pro bono consulting arm of Bloomberg Philanthropies, which works with cities and mayors around the world. 


The details

The retail grant offers qualified small businesses and non-profit organizations that sign a new lease of at least two years for currently vacant spaces of 1000+ sq/ft in a designated high-impact corridor the opportunity to compete for a grant of $35 per square foot with a maximum of $300,000 for Businesses/Organizations occupying 10,000 square feet or less. Businesses /Organizations occupying over 10,000 square feet will be eligible for a grant of $50 per square foot with a $650,000 maximum. Upon the applicant’s final approval and execution of the grant agreement, Invest Newark will disburse fifty percent (50%) of the funds, with additional funding to cover 90% of the monthly build-out cost until the grant amount has reached 100%.

“The Newark Retail Reactivation Initiative will revitalize and accelerate the influx of entrepreneurial businesses making use of downtown vacant storefronts. Newark has become a magnet for entrepreneurs and small retail businesses. This program will make downtown even more attractive as a destination, a place for residents and visitors to enjoy. It is an important step in our strategy to make downtown a 24/7, exciting, walkable area where people can live, work, and play,” detailed Mayor Baraka.

Kaia Shivers covers news, features and the diaspora.

This initiative is part of an ongoing effort to create more jobs, enhance public safety, beautify Newark, and increase the number of businesses and organizations serving Newark residents and visitors alike. Hopefully, the efforts will improve city aesthetics, public safety, and the quality of life for residents who have for years, walked past vacant storefronts. A more salient question is, who will follow the efforts and the money.

For more information, contact Invest Newark at 973-273-1040 or email with the subject line Newark Retail Reactivation Initiative, or click here for Newark Retail Reactivation Grant Application.

Full disclosure: Ark Republic received a small business loan from Invest Newark in 2021.

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