Transformative Mulberry Commons project breaks ground in Newark

Mulberry Commons, a transformative Newark project that has been on the city’s wish list for more than a decade, came one step closer to life Monday at the ceremonial groundbreaking.

City officials and developers say the 22-acre central district project will bring new residences, businesses, a park and pedestrian bridge to the area outside of the Prudential Center to McCarter Highway, effectively linking that part of the city to both Newark Penn Station and the Ironbound section of the city.

The first phase of the project, a 3-acre park along Mulberry Street and Edison Place, is scheduled to open next summer.

Edison Properties, J&L Cos.Inc. and the Prudential Center will help develop the 22-acre project, which will be financed with more than $100 million in private investment and $10 million in public funding.

Its impact on the area goes beyond dollars and cents, project officials said.

“This is a game-changer for the city of Newark,” Mayor Ras Baraka said Monday. “Today is the day we turn the corner. Today is the day the renaissance becomes real, that our city is not a pass-through spot … but a destination.”

The event was attended by numerous Newark officials, including Carmelo Garcia, acting deputy mayor of Economic and Housing Development; Aisha Glover, CEO of the Newark Community Economic Development Corp.; Anthony McMillan, CEO of the Newark Downtown District; and members of the Newark Municipal Council.

Also in attendance were Hugh Weber, president of the New Jersey Devils and Prudential Center; Ben Feigenbaum, chief operating officer of Edison Properties; Jose Lopez, principal of J&L Cos.; and Jennifer Sage, principal of Sage and Coombe Architects.

“We see this as an incredible gateway for the 1.7 million people who come to our arena every year,” Weber said. “More importantly, we see this as a place for the people who live here and work here to come out and enjoy.”

The developers said Mulberry Commons draws upon “living system” concepts, including landscape architecture, walkability, urban lifestyle and ecology.

“Mulberry Commons will attract new companies and jobs to the revitalization that already is underway,” Feigenbaum said.

Leading the design efforts for six of the 22 acres is the architectural firm Sage and Coombe, as well as Supermass Studio Landscape Architect. The plan is for the open space development to open up a vast area of undeveloped land to residential and office development.

The project has been on the drawing board for more than a decade. It was originally hoped it would open around the same time as the Prudential Center, which opened in 2007. In fact, the city of Newark bonded money to build the park years ago, but never used it.

“People are waiting for this thing to take place,” Baraka said. “We have to drive this thing to the finish line.”

Mulberry Commons is the second big announcement for Newark in the past two weeks. Last week, One Theater Square held a topping off ceremony.

One Theater Square, located across in downtown Newark across from NJPAC, will be the first mixed-use residential tower in the city in more than 50 years. It, too, was on the drawing board for more than a decade.

Its developers, Dranoff Properties and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, hope to begin leasing the 245 apartments next spring.