This past Thursday, Prudential, for the first time since construction of the Prudential Towers was announced, met with businesses located near the construction site to discuss concerns and challenges faced since construction began. Small businesses near the site on New Street and Halsey have largely complained of disruption in commerce in the eclectic commercial corridor that had once heralded an emerging retail boom.
The two tower, $444 Million dollar project failed to deal with logistical consideration, which should have been required elements of the construction process. Prudential sent Vice President of Prudential Foundation and Prudential Financial, Shane’ Harris, to discuss with the community an overview of the project, and vetted strategies to enable the organization to assist local businesses during session while construction is being completed.
In her opening statement, Harris outlined several objectives and suggested a plan that included support for the area businesses that involved consulting services from the Institute for Entrepreneur Leadership (IFEL), and financial support via low interest loans provided by BCDC. While on the surface these seem like strides in the right direction, not all present greeted the solutions provided with open arms. These services were already available prior to the disruption in business. At an open forum and networking meet and greet that followed Harris’s project overview, many business owners voiced concerns.
An encouraging breakthrough began to emerge in the conversation when Harris indicated “It would be a loss from prudential perspective if businesses here are not able to be successful during this transition. This is the main reason why we are doing this outreach, and why we are working to respond immediately. There no easy answers, we wont be able to solve these matter concretely right now today. But we think right now we can quickly come together with a follow-up plan. It would be a loss in our point of view, if businesses closed. . But right now is that opportunity gives that feedback and provide some relief. The conversation was honest and constructive, below are parts of the conversation with one of the effect businesses.
Linda Jumah, owner of the clothier Lux Boutique just a few doors down at 83 Halsey Street, also relies on foot traffic, mostly during their lunch hour or after work. “People in the area are definitely excited about businesses like this coming to Halsey Street because they don’t necessarily have to leave the city to find a place to shop for something to wear,” she said.
Jumah: What is the time framed is the marketing. When will the parking solutions start? Regarding technical assistance, IFEL has been available to the businesses on Halsey St, but in terms of immediate relief, for the businesses that are directly impacted, like Cuts Creator, Marta (Dominican Martha Unisex), Beloved, Lux boutique, these businesses are directly impacted, and we feel it in a totally different way from the other businesses. When you closed the businesses on West Park and Cedar Street, when you closed those businesses that affected us. We didn’t have any conversation with anyone. Prior to us merchants coming together saying something is happening here. We are not sure we can make another two years to get through your construction.
Harris: Are you referring to businesses that had to move because of construction?
Jumah: When you close business across from us, it decreases the foot traffic, which reduces the residual traffic, around us. If potential patrons were going to the shoe store or pizza restaurant, they are more likely to walk down the street. We are like in a War zone here. (Mentioned earlier that the streetlights near the construction site were removed, and has made the area dark and unsafe to walk at night) I agree with the notion that it’s dark on the Street at night out here give us a feeling of blight. My business closes at 7:00 pm, we are going into the fall and winter seasons, it getting darker earlier.
Harris: “The quick response is there are a number of things, we were poised to act immediately on. But we didn’t want to respond, in a way that was in isolation from a dialog without getting feedback on what the needs were. And so we are working with Newark Downtown District (NDD), they have been working to negotiate a response that will hopefully begin the start of relief of some of the challenges that you are facing. It not going to solve for everything, but it will be some immediate steps in the right direction. And that’s what we are hoping for. The lighting as an example, of something that we were not aware of, this is great feedback. It is a helpful follow-up to add that to the dialog, the issues with permits, that’s a broader challenge for the city. We can talk with some of our partner. Councilmen Sharif has offered to be responsive, to having the dialog but we will have to bring in the other parties that are accountable for some of these things.
Jumah: There is a concern regarding a decrease in water pressure.
Harris: We can immediate check on that, how construction is impacting the pressure.
Jumah: Here is my last question. In terms of parking, I just not really sure why the people working on the project have parking but the businesses here do not. I don’t know why they are taking up parking from our customers to park their own vehicles. You don’t have parking for your construction crews?
Harris: We can look into that, we did not know that this was an issue. No this is helpful. We are here to hear and understand. We got a lot of good feedback, thanks you. From the philanthropic standpoint, we have been committed to the Halsey street corridor, of businesses for over 20 years, and have engage in build the infrastructure to support not profit, when this opportunity came online, one of the reason why were doling this in partnership with corporate real estate, with the intention that the company has to think of the broader impact of the community. Corporate look at the business standpoint, but the partnership between us really taking with them on a regular basis, is that broader lenses on the community impact. And I can agree that it could have happen much sooner.
Jumah: The community is suffering. The community has been trying to build; now it is getting shut down. What do you tell those people that have been trying to build their community? Now it is slowly dying down?
Harris: What I would tell them that we are here, we are in the hot seat, and we are having this dialog, and that is something that is not required, by Prudential to do as a part of the construction. But I do think that just by bringing the community context, and understanding theses needs, and problems solve together, the company generally wants to do. Now big companies are slow, why to slow in my mind. But I am glad we are at the table. There are resources we are willing to look at to solve this problem. From our standpoint, the work that we have done in this neighborhood for many years, it would be a lost to us if business can’t continue to exist. That is not our vision, that not our end game.
While no formal merchants association exists on Halsey, several shop owners expressed interest in ratifying a cooperative spirit that’s taken hold over recent years. “We all try to feed off each other,” Jumah said, adding she’s always trying to send business over to her neighbors: “If I have a customer who is looking for something to eat, I’ll tell them to go by Harvest Table. Or if they’re looking for a good hair salon I’ll send them over to Cut Creators. I know they will be treated right. Jumah is hopeful any new investment will spur additional economic activity along Halsey Street. It is an ideal way for new daytime visitors to explore the neighborhood and get to know surrounding merchants. Jumah’s vision for Halsey Street doesn’t stop on her short block. The street, once such a shopping mecca, doesn’t need another huge department store to thrive. Instead she said, there needs to be a growing collection of eclectic businesses that are unique to Newark.
“I just hope that this area grows and is a destination for people visiting the city. If you’re at the Prudential you might stop by the Halsey district because we have great restaurants and great shopping,” she said. “If we get that type of attention, it will bring an energy that will help this entire street.”
As Ms. Harris said in her concluding statement, they now have useful intelligence that they can review and derive a workable solution. This was a good first step to include input from the community rather solely relying on other institutions with limited relations with the community, that believe they know the community needs. We look forward to the next step in the process; we will keep you in formed. Important to note that institutions (public and private) alone cannot build on a community without the community.