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NEWARK-It’s taken months of politicking and setbacks, but an organization called the New Newark Foundation, bankrolled by such heavy hitters as Newark-based Prudential Insurance and philanthropist Raymond Chambers, is ready to roll with a plan to bring new residents to New Jersey’s largest city.

Newark has been losing population steadily for four decades, although some progress has been made in recent years for replacing decrepit high-rise projects with more family-friendly townhouses. The New Newark plan is ambitious–all that’s missing are the developers.

At issue is the $17.5 million worth of real estate, a total of three square blocks across from Military Park, that New Newark has under its control. The focal point of the sweeping proposal is the massive, one million-sf Hahne & Co. department store building, along with Griffith Plaza, that New Newark wants turned into luxury residences and ground-floor retailing. The buildings have been vacant for almost 20 years.

A 60-page RFP, just issued, aims to get developers involved as soon as possible. Among New Newark’s other downtown holdings is the old S. Klein department store, also long vacant, but which has recently drawn some interest from telecom companies.

“We want to encourage street life, to go beyond the nine-to-fivers to bring a whole new population into the city,” says New Newark executive director James Schmidt.

He points to Newark’s burgeoning entertainment core, including the much-heralded NJ Performing Arts Center, a new minor league baseball stadium (although attendance has been disappointing), and the like. Also in the works is a new arena to house the NBA Nets and the NHL Devils, both of which would move from the Meadowlands.

“We want more people downtown for visibility,” Mayor Sharpe James told reporters recently. “The more people on the street, the less crime you have.”

New Newark officials envision up to 100 rental apartments in a series of smallish buildings to be constructed by a chosen developer, along with block frontage reserved for entertainment-related establishments. The Hahne’s and Griffith properties would be redeveloped as apartments, lofts or condos.

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