I got to the New Newark forum about a half-hour late, but with enough time to catch the later half of Deputy Mayor of Economic Development Stefan Pryor’s breathless Powerpoint presentation about the opportunities for companies to build and come to the city.
And by breathless, I mean he was flying through the slides: following a tour of Newark’s premium office and residential space with ballyhoo about the city’s infrastructure improvements like the renovation of eleven of its parks and the Broad Street reconstruction projects. He sang the praises of tax credits made available for businesses looking to taking advantage of the Urban Transit Hub Tax Credit, suggesting it should have been called the “free building” tax credit because of the tax breaks it provides on office space. Pryor showed numbers that suggested a business could save between $40 and $70 million by relocating to Newark from midtown Manhattan — this from the man who ran the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. If there was an overarching theme, it was that Newark is a huge value for businesses, and we are at a time in our history where a business could live or die by how well it controls its expenses.
Following Pryor’s presentation were two panels. The first, involving Pryor and Mark Willis, a Visiting Scholar from The Ford Foundation, focused on the challenges of the current economy and what affect they are having on Newark’s revitalization. It was interesting how murky the details were: we’ve been in the midst of the credit crunch — the real crunch — for several months, but it’s still unclear what future will development will look like. The news for 2009 is mixed: commodity prices are down (that’s good), but lending is way down (that’s bad); interest is out there for investing in Newark (that’s good), but the recession is expected to continue (that’s bad).
And then, another panel: this time featuring community leaders, activists, and policy wonks. This discussion was much more faceted than the initial presentation. At one point, Baye Aadofo-Wilson pointed out that Newark needs to embrace an idea of “progress” that’s more than just bricks-and-mortar development. Rich Cammarieri followed with the idea that real improvement will only happen when students and communities and business work together. The panel agreed that whatever the approach, the New Newark can’t come at the expense of today’s Newark: the residents who have lived and fought and raised their families here.
I got the opportunity to ask Pryor a few follow-up questions. Alas, his presentation was too proprietary to share (although I did get audio of the latter half of the presentation). Given the recent news about drive-by shootings over the weekend, I asked if any of the businesses he’d met with cited crime as a prohibitive reason against investing in the city. Surprisingly, he said no one has. “Not a single retail business said they wouldn’t come to Newark because of crime,” I pressed. His response was still no.
We also talked about the recent rash of news surrounding the shootings. Pryor pointed out that Newark is at a historic low for murder, and noted that New York City had also just had its own share of recent, violent crime that, comparatively, has gone unnoticed by the media. I also nudged him about whether the Nets were coming to town: if he knew anything, he wasn’t saying, leaving me with, “When we know, we’ll know.”
I also took a moment to introduce myself to a woman who had been sitting nearby during the session. Born and raised in Newark, and having raised her kids here, Elizabeth agreed with an early statement by Rich Cammarieri that these forums have happened before with little effect. “[Newarkers] are not involved,” in planning processes that affect their neighborhoods, she told me. She had even become aware of the forum itself by chance because her sister had forwarded it along from her work.
The New Newark is still quite a ways off. I agree with Pryor that the value proposition just makes sense, and that’s part of the reason our family is here, too. Newark will be transformed into a successful and sustainable city, and will likely lead the nation in several key milestones like population growth, crime reduction, and community programs. But the infrastructure improvements, legislature, and policies that benefit new growth AND the life-long Newarkers who have been here for decades take years before they can have their effect. The challenge for those of us who want to make a difference is to stick to our convictions and tough out the difficulties and challenges for the long haul.
Oh, if you’re interested in some audio from the event, click play on the podcast link below. The quality is not great, and there’s plenty of keyboard tapping, blackberry humming, and sidebar conversations, but you can get a first-hand listen of the latter half of Pryor’s presentation and the panels that followed.[audio:https://dailynewarker.com/w/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/081029-new-newark-64.mp3%5D