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Newark Life

Newark looks to enhance its business district

Sep 12, 2012 01:39PM ● By Steven Hoffman

Drive down Main Street in Newark and the evidence of approximately $40 million in privately funded economic development during the last decade is everywhere: New restaurants, apartments and businesses give the downtown a distinctive, modern look.

“It has been a real transformation of Main Street,” said Marilyn Minster, owner of Minster Jewelers, which has been a mainstay on Main Street since a five-star General named Dwight Eisenhower was the President. “Every building on the Main Street has changed, just about.”

And Newark's business district will continue to change and evolve. According to Ricky Nietubicz, the administrator of the Downtown Newark Partnership, the most significant change currently being worked on is the extension of Main Street by transforming a section of Elkton Road into what will be called South Main Street.

Nietubicz said the planning has taken place for about a year. A major renovation of the section of Elkton Road that will become South Main Street on Jan. 1, 2013 is under way, and the work will make the area much more pedestrian-friendly.

“The downtown district has been expanding,” Nietubicz explained. “It seemed like the next logical step, on the heels of all the private investment, is to extend Main Street. By having a bigger downtown district, we'll have some more room for retail. We want to have more mixed-uses on South Main Street."

Minster shared Nietubicz's enthusiasm. “The changes for Elkton Road will allow more businesses to have a Main Street address," she said. "We've been running out of space on Main Street. I hope {South Main Street} will be full and productive.”

Economic development in Newark continues to be strong, even after such extensive commercial activity on Main Street during the last decade.

“There's certainly continued demand for commercial space,” Nietubicz said. “We've seen a steady progression.”

That progression will continue with the addition of new restaurants like Taverna, an Italian eatery that is a new venture of the Platinum Dining Group, which owns Capers & Lemons, Red Fire Grill Steakhouse, and Eclipse Bistro; or the Greene Turtle sports bar, a franchise that is growing in the Mid-Atlantic region.

“We have a lot of restaurants. We are a dining destination,” Nietubicz said.

One of the biggest developments making its way through the planning stages right now is the Kate's Place and Choate Street Townhouses project, right in the heart of the downtown district. This project, which will redevelop a total of five parcels with two buildings and parking spaces, will bring 2,760 square feet of retail space and apartments to Newark.

While there have been numerous residential projects in Newark in recent years, Nietubicz said that there is continued demand for more residential units.

“There's still a need out there,” he said, noting that many of the residential units that have been built in recent years were pre-leased before they were even available.

“What we've seen is a progression of older units being turned into newer units, but there may not be a net gain in the total number of units during these projects,” he said.

Compared to Minster, Nietubicz is a relative newcomer to the city. He remembers seeing downtown Newark for the first time as an undergraduate student in 2004. “When I came to Newark, I was certainly impressed by the downtown district,” he said.

He ended up interning at the Downtown Newark Partnership for several years before becoming the administrator of the organization that oversees many of the events and activities in Newark.

The Downtown Newark Partnership is continually analyzing events or activities that could encourage more people to visit the downtown. Nietubicz said there are plans to bring a triathlon to Newark, and there have been preliminary discussions about adding a biking event to the yearly schedule. They would also like to add another retail event that would encourage more shopping in the stores, though nothing specific has been decided yet.

Minster said that one key to Main Street's overall success is making certain that there is a good mix of retail shops.

“We need a diversification in our retail shops,” explained Minster who, in addition to being a business owner, serves as the chairwoman of the Downtown Newark Partnership. “We have a lot of gift shops. But we don't have stores where a man or a lady can go to buy professional attire.”

Unique, privately owned businesses are a target for the Downtown Newark Partnership to fill in some of the retail gaps that exist in the downtown. “We'd love to see a grocery come in, something like a Trader Joe's,” Nietubicz said.

Plans are being developed for a major renovation of the Newark Shopping Center. Nietubicz said that the goal is to limit the disruption to and maintain the businesses that have been there for a long time, but also to renovate the retail spaces so that they are more attractive to potential tenants. This and several other projects will ensure that Newark's business district continues to evolve in 2013.

“The next six to 12 months are going to be pretty exciting,” Nietubicz said.

Minster has seen more than her share of changes since the family-owned jewelry store opened in Newark in the 1950s. Like so many American cities and small towns, Newark saw a great deal of prosperity during and after World War II. And like so many American towns, there was a downturn a few decades later, when regional shopping malls attracted customers away from stores in the downtowns.

In Newark, the downtown district has always been a focal point for the community, and because of its proximity to the University of Delaware campus, it has always played a significant role in university life. That's why the success of the revitalization effort is vitally important to Newark's future.

The town has already earned numerous accolades as a result of its thriving commercial district. Business Weekly named it the best city for small business start-ups. The Small Business Association honored Newark as the "Small Business Community of the Year." And in 2011, Newark was the recipient of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's coveted "Great American Main Street" award.

Minster admits that she's sometimes amazed at Newark's transformation along Main Street.

“It's taking us away from being a small town and really put us in the 21st century,” she said of all the development. “It makes us look like we're progressing, and that's important.”

Nietubicz said that revitalizing the downtown is a never-ending effort. “We're always looking to improve or increase our business mix,” he explained, “and we're certainly always trying to encourage development in the downtown district.”

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