Triangle Park will be called ‘Mulberry Commons.’ What we learned about the transformative project planned for downtown.
by Andaiye Taylor/January 18, 2017
The plan for the project formerly know as Triangle Park enjoyed its official unveiling today at a Prudential Center press conference overlooking the site of the park, which will be called Mulberry Commons Park. The new park will extend out from the eastern face of the arena, up to and across Newark Penn Station, and up to the edge of Peter Francisco Park in the Ironbound.
A pedestrian bridge connecting downtown with the Ironbound will be a signature feature of the park that has the potential to transform the interaction between the Central Business District and the Ironbound, which until now have been harshly bisected by train tracks. The project will make over a surface parking lot and an empty field, and will indelibly transform the landscape of downtown.
The three-acre park, part of the full Mulberry Commons development which will measure 22 acres in total and represent a more than $100 million financial investment, will be developed by award-winning architectural firm Sage and Coombe. The architectural firm said at a community meeting Tuesday night that they envision the park as a series of “rooms,” or discrete, but connected, areas with their own unique character. They’re targeting late summer 2018 for completion.
Here’s what we learned about the park during a community question-and-answer session that took place yesterday at Prudential Center and during today’s press conference.
The park’s creation will proceed along two phases
The park’s creators are looking to break ground in “late spring” of 2017, they said. The first phase will involve the buildout of the area spanning the Prudential Center and Newark Penn Station; the second, which will be split into two parts, will involve the refurbishing of Peter Francisco Park (Phase IIA), which will remain a standalone park, and building the bridge over McCarter Highway, plus a waiting room and connections to Newark Penn Station (Phase IIB).
Future possibilities for the project include a connection to Riverfront Park, which will soon undergo its own major buildout, and a “High-Line”-style connection extending into the Ironbound.
Phase IIB will depend, in part, on coordination with New Jersey Transit and Amtrak.
Mulberry Commons Park is envisioned as a locus of community activity
Architects envision four primary functions for the park–as a place where Newarkers and visitors alike can “commune,” “engage,” “play,” and “chill.”
The current Championship Plaza, the brick-faced area across from Prudential Center on Mulberry Street between Market Street and Edison Place, will be sold to an as-yet-unknown buyer, and pre-game activities will move into Mulberry Commons Park.
Additional activities envisioned for the park include outdoor movies, farmers’ markets, street hockey, fitness classes, chess, and community learning activities, among other concepts.
Mulberry Commons is also envisioned as a locus of community art
Newark-based Yendor Productions, which is responsible for the execution of many of Newark’s murals, will run a competition for public art for the park. Although no projects are set in stone, murals and three-dimensional art installations are on the table.
Renderings depict a potential art installation in “Arena Yard,” the area closest to Prudential Center, and at street level on McCarter Highway, where elements of the park, including the elevated walkway spanning McCarter Highway, will be visible from the street.
McCarter Highway facing north on the site of Mulberry Commons Park. Architects plan for a “glimpse” of the park to be visible from the street.
A comprehensive plan for dealing with displaced homeless people is still pending
One Ironbound resident asked about the fate of the city’s homeless population, many of whom take shelter in and around Newark Penn Station. Newark Downtown District said they convened a homeless symposium about the project in October, and that the city’s Health Department will work on the issue. A comprehensive plan for addressing the displacement of the homeless population is still in the offing.
There are no current plans for a playground, but other kid-friendly options are on the table
In response to a question from Peter Winstead, Jr., a downtown resident (and creative director at The Honors Program) who is also the father of a two-year-old daughter, about whether the park will include a playground, Sage and Coombe principal Jennifer Sage said there are no current plans for one, because the firm wants to create a space that is more “flexible.”
She pointed to park features and programming possibilities that could make for a kid-friendly terrain, including a “play terrace” in the “Warehouse Terraces” area, which will feature a terraced landscape to account for the 10- to 15-foot difference in grade between the Arena Yard area closest to Prudential Center, and the McCarter Grove area closest to Newark Penn Station.
“The way that the terraces get programmed would definitely benefit children,” said Sage. She also said the park may have a summer fountain feature that could facilitate play (and cooling off) in the summer. And the open space, she said, could be ideal for other kid-friendly activities. A winter skating rink is also proposed.
Mulberry Commons Park will consist of three discrete but connected sections. “Arena Yard,” closest to Prudential Center, “Warehouse Terraces,” between Columbia Street and McCarter Highway, and “McCarter Grove,” which will span McCarter Highway and Newark Penn Station.
The park won’t be all green
Within the park itself, planners are looking to maximize green space, but say there will also have to be hardscape surfaces so they can balance between greenery and the maintenance of the overall park.
Planners also intend to make the park “green” in the environmental sense. Taewook Cha, Creative Director at Supermass Studio, the park’s landscape architect, said there will be an emphasis on environmental sustainability, including in terms of storm water preservation, and a focus on using local and sustainable materials to build out the space.
New developments will dot the periphery of the park
The total Mulberry Commons development will measure 22 acres in size. According to the renderings provided by Sage & Coombe, three large areas–identified as Site 8, Site 10 and Site 11 on the plans–will be occupied by as-yet-unspecified developments. “Master redevelopers [Edison Properties and J&L] are doing their due diligence to know what is sustainable within the footprint,” of the redevelopment area, said Sage. Possibilities include both residential and commercial developments.
A significant new feature will see the warehouse building located at McCarter Highway and Edison Place converted into “Ironside,” a new commercial development that will feature office space on its upper floors and commercial/retail space on its ground level. Jerry Gottesman, chairman of Edison Properties, said they hope to be “ready to go” in terms of breaking ground on development in the last quarter of 2018 or first quarter of 2019.
A commercial/retail space named “Ironside” is planned for the warehouse at McCarter Highway and Mulberry Street. The above rendering depicts the south-facing wall of the building, which will run alongside Mulberry Commons Park between Mulberry Street and McCarter Highway. The Edison Place side of the building is opposite this view.
No word yet on whether or how bike lanes will be incorporated into the park
In response to a resident question on Tuesday night, Sage said it had not yet been determined how bike lanes will feed into park access points, or whether bike lanes will traverse the park itself. She did make an “executive decision” on the spot to include bike racks in the park so riders can store their bicycles there.
Mulberry Commons Park planners have accounted for maintenance and security
The Newark Downtown District will be maintaining the park and supplying 24-hour security. The park will not be gated, said Sage.
Planners expect the park to increase public transportation ridership to Prudential Center and foot traffic downtown and in the Ironbound
At present, said Sage, about 40 percent of Prudential Center attendees commute to sports and entertainment events on the train. Because the park will increase connectivity between the train station and the arena, planners are banking on an increase in ridership, which would offset the loss of surface parking around the arena.
When asked about how the development will affect traffic, Mayor Ras Baraka said in a press conference today that while the city has a grant to research traffic timing and patterns around the new park, “We want it to affect traffic by telling people they don’t have to drive.”
Baraka also said he hopes the enhanced connectivity between Newark Penn Station and the city increases foot traffic to the city’s cultural and culinary destinations.
In addition to remaking the landscape, city officials are also counting on the park to provide an economic development boost
Planners say they expect the economic impact of the entire Mulberry Commons project to exceed $500 million when the commercial, retail and public spaces are taken into account.
“Public parks, accessible to all Newarkers and City visitors, not only serve as a place for recreation and refuge, but help drive local economic development through job creation and retail and commercial opportunities,” said acting President and CEO of the Newark Community Economic Development Corporation, Aisha Glover, according to a statement about the project.
When asked about the potential for jobs, Baraka said the city would enforce first source ordinances that mandate contractors to “take affirmative steps to the greatest extent feasible” to source forty percent of their employees from a pool of qualified Newark residents. He added that retailers who are located in the development will receive payroll tax abatements for hiring locally.
Additionally, the Newark CEDC is currently offering a Contract Developer Initiative meant to help Newark-based contractors compete for construction and bonding contracts. At yesterday’s community meeting, the program was cited as a potential pipeline for local, minority-owned, and women-owned subcontractors to be hired for the buildout.
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