Booker delivers second State of the City

His second since becoming the mayor of Newark
February 8, 2008 3:18:30 AM PST
After a challenging year with a horrific triple murder that refocused attention on crime in New Jersey's largest city, its mayor Thursday declared his optimism for the future, announcing plans for a new hotel, lofts and children's museum for the downtown area. "In 2007, we kept our focus, we kept our momentum and we continued to march toward what I believe to be Newark's certain destiny: to be America's leading city in urban transformation," Mayor Cory Booker declared in his second state of the city address.

While its neighbors of Jersey City and Hoboken have attracted significant residential development, Newark, even with its major transportation network, has waited for a nibble of interest.

Booker on Thursday announced some successes: new lofts in an old industrial development with 20 percent of the units designated affordable; a new 350-room hotel and conference center, the first in downtown Newark in decades, and 10,000 square feet of retail space near the new Prudential Center.

He also said the state's Children's Museum has decided to locate in Newark, at a 60,000 square-foot space downtown. A new 100,000 square-foot office building will also provide space for technology companies.

These projects add to another major project for downtown. The New Jersey Performing Arts Center last month announced its partnership with a developer to build the first new apartments in downtown Newark in 40 years; financing must still be secured for the $200 million project.

Booker said the attitude toward development is now different, no longer giving away city resources.

"Our new land disposition and abatement policies link discounted land and tax incentives to hiring locally, including minorities, and building with green standards, and building affordable and work force housing," he said.

Booker, who took office in July 2006, didn't mention his predecessor, Sharpe James, by name. James is accused of selling land in cut-rate deals to a crony who then resold the parcels at a profit. James goes on trial on federal corruption charges later this month.

During his one-hour speech, Booker also said he wants to focus the city government's efforts on helping families and children.

He introduced new initiatives that range from adding four new buses for seniors to a program to help low-income grandparents raise their grandchildren to a new center aimed at helping fathers. He also announced more than $40 million for parks, including $19 from the city and $13 million raised privately.

Booker also discussed the city's declining crime rate, noting that in the first month of 2008, the city reported two homicides compared to 11 in January last year.

"I will not settle for a city that is doing good in crime reduction when great is possible, and I will not accept greatness when we can have the best," he said.

Booker delivered his speech to an invitation-only crowd of 500 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. The annual address was moved from City Hall to accommodate more people.