While may be the largest retail hub in Newark, and one of the city’s top sales tax generators, its luster has faded in recent years.
The exit of several longtime retailers, shifts in consumer shopping habits, a sluggish economy, and competition from other shopping centers all have taken their toll on the 32-year-old mall.
And Newark residents have noticed.
More than 70 people filled an assembly room at the on Wednesday evening to voice their thoughts about the mall at a community meeting sponsored by the City of Newark.
“We see NewPark as an opportunity,” Community Development Director Terrence Grindall told the crowd in his opening remarks, adding that the city is being proactive and developing a master plan that will look at ways the mall and its surrounding area can be revitalized.
Also at the meeting were two consultants from Oakland-based City Design Collective, an urban design firm that Newark is working with to develop the project. The company has helped other Bay Area cities, including Alameda, Milpitas, and San Mateo; create plans to revitalize similar urban areas.
One of the most important elements of the plan, dubbed the , is getting input from the community. Wednesday’s meeting, Grindall told the crowd, was the first step in accomplishing that goal.
Many expressed frustration at the shift in the mall’s tenant lineup to lower-end retailers, while others complained that there aren’t many entertainment options at the mall, citing movie theater. Safety and security were other concerns expressed.
Grindall acknowledged the changes in the mall’s retail mix and assured the crowd that the city is listening to residents. “We’re clued in from the community that they want higher quality retailers, he said.
However, because the mall is privately owned, Grindall said the city has little say in which retailers can open in the center. But, the city has regulatory tools it can use when the mall owner wants to make changes. “Then they’re going to have to work with the city,” he said.
“But that doesn’t mean you don’t have any power,” Ian Ross, a consultant with City Design Collective, told the crowd. “With community vision and a set of tools in place a community plan can be built out over a period of time.”
NewPark Mall is owned by Rouse Properties, a real estate investment trust based in New York City. It was one of 29 shopping malls nationwide spun off to Rouse earlier this year by General Growth Properties.
While the mall is home to 150 stores on about 1.2 million square feet of land, it’s not the only area the master plan is focusing on.
The Greater NewPark Master Plan area also includes two neighboring shopping centers: to the north, which includes BJ's Restaurant; and NewPark Plaza to the south, which is anchored by TJ Maxx and .
To put it into perspective, Ross told the crowd the target area is about twice as big as the downtown Walnut Creek shopping district, and larger than San Francisco’s Financial District.
All that space allows a lot of flexibility in the kinds of projects that might be developed. Toward that end, Grindall prompted the crowd to come up with ideas to improve the area. Among the ideas:
- A performing arts center
- An ice skating rink
- A skateboard park
- A rock-climbing area
- Good quality high-density housing for families and professionals
- Housing developed specifically for senior citizens
- Office and retail space on the unused portions of the NewPark Mall parking lot
- More restaurants
- A new movie theater
Dean Golden, a retired civil engineer who has lived in Newark for 34 years, urged city leaders and community members to “think out of the box and make it a destination with a unique feel to it.” Golden suggested the area could take on a European feel by being divided up into a mixed-use downtown area with water-filled canals.
Golden’s idea was met with enthusiastic applause.
In closing the meeting, Grindall detailed the next steps in the Greater NewPark Master Plan process:
- Ideas from Wednesday’s meeting will be incorporated into a draft master plan
- The plan will go to the planning commission for review
- The City Council with then vote on it
- The Council also will assist with incorporation of the project description into the city’s General Plan Update