Newark and Its Gateway Complex
By Thomas Dolan

Newark and Its Gateway Complex

Part 3: A Weakened City

By the 1960s, fiscally weak cities were growing increasingly dependent upon federal and state money for subsistence. This reliance on outside aid was even greater in Newark. Under Mayor Hugh Addonnozio in the '60s, according to urban anthropologist Gwendolyn Mikell, the tax laws, land arrangements and city government structure did little to serve the people of Newark while helping "economic interests in other parts of the state."

Newark was confronted with a crisis: how to get white people and subsequent investment back into the city. As part of the solution, Newark began changing its built environment—with highways and office buildings—in order to attract suburbanites.

Thus, the people in charge during the '60s were more interested in making Newark a regional center, serving the county and the state and in many respects ignoring the residents.

The Gateway Urban Renewal Project, as the name suggests, was built on urban renewal land. The area that was cleared contained some light industrial buildings but no large residential property. Market Street, which runs along the side of the complex, also contained some small stores that were relocated to other parts of the city. Relocating businesses and clearing the land was the responsibility of the NHA. Development on the site was originally proposed in 1959. One newspaper hoped the development would signal "the beginning of the end of Newark's infamous skid row."

At the time it was seen by some that Prudential was taking a big risk in investing in the project. One realtor claimed that "business won't move into Newark for three reasons: the racial situation, taxes and corruption." Prudential addressed these concerns when it advertised in 1968 that Gateway was: "Not a symbol. But a Statement of faith, ... faith in Newark's future as an economic force. ...Gateway has begun and Prudential feels privileged to finance this ultra modern city within a city."

Some developers and investors were lured to the project by the financial incentives given to developers of urban renewal land. In the early '60s, New Jersey passed what is known as the Fox-Lance Law, which permitted municipalities to grant tax abatements to developers of urban renewal land for 15 years from the time of the project's completion. This exacerbated the already enormous tax problem in Newark, but many felt that tax abatements were necessary to attract business to Newark—especially after the riots. According to one real estate agent: "There will be no building in Newark without the Fox-Lance provisions. You've got to have tax help or you can't build an office building in Newark. You can't be competitive."

The Gateway Center was part of the "New Newark." In many respects, given the image of the city, it is an achievement that such a project was even begun or proposed. Prudential committed $18 million of long-term financing for the project, which in the first phase included Gateway One, a concourse and shopping mall, and the Downtowner Motor Inn. The second phase included Gateway Two, home of Western Electric Company.

Both phases, designed by Victor Gruen Associates, allowed the tenant a total interior experience. A pedestrian mall one level above the street connected all parts of the complex. The entire complex was connected to Penn Station by a glass-enclosed skywalk that extended over Raymond Plaza. Another skywalk extended across McCarter Highway to connect Gateway One and Gateway Two. The skywalk's purpose was twofold: It separated vehicular and pedestrian traffic and provided safety and security to anxious commuters.

Called the Gateway Urban Renewal Project, it was owned at the time by Food Fair Properties, Inc. of Philadelphia and the Gene A. Genola Company of Asbury Park. Both parties faced financial trouble and sold their interests to Prudential in 1976.

By connecting directly to Penn Station and allowing little access to the streets of Newark, Gateway was designed with the suburban commuter in mind. But the Kerner Report viewed this pattern of commuting as one of the possible causes of tension that led to the riots. The skywalks and pedestrian mall, unique to Newark at the time, added problems. Not only would the commuters not contribute anything to property taxes, as the report suggested, but the design of Gateway precluded or discouraged their contact with the city's streets. Commuters would not be patronizing any local businesses outside the Gateway complex.

In 1970, Kenneth Gibson was elected Newark's first black mayor, and many thought that he would change this situation. In the first few years of the Gibson administration, the new city council, which included an increasing number of upwardly mobile blacks, challenged the corporate sector's tax arrangements and pushed business interests to take a more active and responsible role in the community. However, this tactic only scared business further away and out of Newark. Gibson was left in a precarious position. As Mikell noted, "Increased black administrative control had not meant real power or benefits to the working class, since the state and corporate interests retained control over the purse strings of Newark."

The power in Newark was no longer in the hands of the city council but had shifted to the state and corporate sector. Therefore, in the years following his election to office, Gibson created a climate friendly to business interests. When he ran for reelection in 1974 he said that he was "running again, but not as black."

To be sure, construction for the Gateway complex was started two years before Gibson took office and completed two years after he took office. Gibson did not create Gateway, and it is uncertain what he could or would have done to change the complex. But many of his previous supporters declared during his reelection in 1974 that "Gibson had been bad for Newark." One of them, poet Amira Baraka, labeled him a "neo-colonialist and complained that Gibson was "for the profit of Prudential, Public (private) Service, Port Authority, and other huge corporations that run in and around and through and out of Newark paying little or no taxes" while the residents were ignored.

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