With a high-profile makeover that's all but complete, the stewards of Newark's Military Park will have just under $1 million at their disposal as they begin to activate the space.
That's not far off the early operating budget for Bryant Park in Manhattan, whose revival two decades ago is serving as a blueprint for the Brick City. Today that budget is more than $10 million, but in order for Newark to find the same success, advocates say it will take a similar level of dedication from the business community.
"Bryant Park is now ten times more successful than when it opened," said Ommeed Sathe, a board member of the Military Park Partnership. "At first, people still had the perception of what the park used to be, of what the city used to be. It takes time, so this park will not instantly transform anything. It's about the sustained commitment."
Sathe, a vice president for Prudential Financial, spoke Friday during a program hosted by the Newark Regional Business Partnership. Business leaders and stakeholders gathered at the Robert Treat Hotel, which abuts Military Park, as experts discussed the future of the six-acre site following a four-year planning and rehabilitation project.
The effort was spearheaded by Dan Biederman, who pioneered the concept of reviving urban parks with the now-bustling Bryant Park in Midtown Manhattan. And he did so largely through the help of private funding in New York City.
In Newark, that commitment has come from a handful of the city's corporate anchors in addition to nonprofit and government funds. Sathe said Military Park's primary financial partners include the MCJ Amelior Foundation, Prudential Financial, Public Service Electric & Gas, Boraie Development, the city and the nonprofit Green Space.
But he noted the public sector has no ongoing funding responsibility for the park.
"Not a single dollar of city money goes into the operations of this park," said Sathe, Prudential's director of social investments. "This park depends on private citizens, private companies, small businesses for its continued operation and for its programming."
That means broadening the funding base going forward, he said.
Sathe made the case Friday only weeks after the fences came down and construction crews cleared out of the park, following the $3 million renovation led by Biederman Redevelopment Ventures. The 350-year-old space now has rows of flowers inside its iconic sword-shaped fountain, and trees have been moved closer to the perimeter to create more space for new uses, he said.
A new restaurant is scheduled to open in August, he said. And the renovated park now has areas for concerts, classes, movie screenings and other programming, all made inviting by new lighting and furniture.
"The park is a stage," Sathe said. "The park is meant to be lived in, occupied, programmed, and that only comes from the people in the room."
He added that the benefits of having a great civic space extend throughout Newark, including its business community. It raises real estate values, creates tax revenue through jobs and generates foot traffic for small businesses.
"The benefits roll over in tremendous form to lots of different constituencies," he said. "So this has huge value, I think, to the city of Newark."
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