A 12.3-acre parcel along the Passaic River in Newark that once housed unsightly cargo storage containers was reborn today as a lustrous green athletic field, the latest addition to Essex County’s park system.
Gov. Chris Christie joined Mayor Cory Booker, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo and several other officials for the ribbon-cutting at Riverfront Park, located in the East Ward near the corner of Brill Street and Raymond Boulevard.
“I remember the days of this being called the container capital of the state of New Jersey,” said East Ward Councilman Augusto Amador. “It was an absolute eyesore.”
Amador, an advocate for increasing green space in the ward, and other officials today said the Ironbound community had long been pushing for more playing fields in the densely populated neighborhood, which has just three other athletic fields for its approximately 60,000 residents.
Riverfront Park, which contains soccer and baseball fields as well as tennis and basketball courts, also represents another step towards transforming the heavily industrialized Passaic River corridor into a greenway to be used for recreation. There are plans to link the park to a city-owned parcel sitting along the river just to the west of the park. Officials also hope to add a stage along the riverfront for concerts and other festivities.
In April 2010, Essex County acquired the six parcels that make up the park through condemnation. Funding for the park came from a variety of sources, including the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which provided $9 million for acquisition of the land. Development was paid for with money from the state Green Acres fund, which provided $1.3 million; the Ironbound Community Corp., $1.9 million; the county’s Open Space Trust Fund, $3 million; and $850,000 provided by Covanta Energy. SPARK and Down Neck Sports each contributed $275,000.
“This is a profound historic moment here,” Booker said of the Passaic River area and its role in powering Newark’s rise as a center of industry centuries ago.
“For so long that great artery that was at the heart of our city has been blocked to residents,” he added. “No longer are residents blocked by shipping containers, no longer are they blocked by contamination.”
“As a kid who grew up here, fighting for a place to play soccer and baseball, who used to swim in the Passaic River back in the 1950s, it means a lot,” said Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura. “I pledge to you we will do our very best with our partners from the Newark Police Department to keep this place a sanctuary.”
Fontoura, along with several other speakers, also praised DiVincenzo, who has long had an interest in improving and expanding the county’s recreation facilities. Riverfront is the fourth park to be added to the county park system during DiVincenzo’s tenure as executive, along with Kip’s Castle in Verona and Veterans Memorial Park in Newark. Funds from Green Acres, the county Open Space Trust Fund and other sources saved Montclair’s Presby Iris Gardens from development.
“This would not have happened without the community first,” said Divincenzo, who thanked organizations including the Ironbound Community Corp. and the Down Neck Sports Group as well as private citizens for their advocacy.
“The community stood the course, making sure whoever was elected did their job,” said DiVincenzo. “I can’t take the credit. The community gets the credit.”
DiVincenzo, a Democrat, also credited the Republican governor, stating Christie overlooked partisan considerations when DiVincenzo lobbied him for state funds to build parkland in an area where Christie has few supporters -- so few that Christie made light of the fact.
“How many votes did I get in Newark, Cory?” he asked the mayor, who replied, “Twelve.”
“And I took them all out to dinner,” Christie said.
“Making Newark the best it can possibly be makes Essex County better,” Christie also said. “And by making Essex County and its 800,000 citizens better we make New Jersey better.”
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