Steering Newark forwardOct 07, 2019 02:47PM ● By J. Chambless
Valerie Lane, coordinator of UD’s Community Engagement Initiative, tosses a microphone to a workshop attendee. ‘Instead of a traditional handheld microphone, we used a catch box microphone to add some fun,’ she said. ‘Once someone caught the box, they would speak into it, and everyone could hear them!’
The Newark Partnership cares about the city’s future. Or, as its website says, it’s “a community coalition dedicated to the economic, cultural, aesthetic, environmental and social enhancement” of the city.
The new partnership grew out of the Downtown Newark Partnership, which was created in 1998. “There was a sense that the Downtown Newark Partnership had outlived its usefulness,” said Dan Rich, director of the University of Delaware’s Community Engagement Initiative and co-chair of the committee that planned the new group.
So in 2017, the downtown group asked for a committee to consider its own future. With the help of multiple meetings, reports, outreach efforts and financial plans, the new partnership incorporated in December, and in July named its board, led by former mayor Polly Sierer, a Newark resident since 1987.
“We’re a grassroots organization representing residents, businesses, faith-based organizations, nonprofits and other groups coming together with passion and energy to improve Newark,” she said.
The board includes representatives from a lot of stakeholders in the city’s future, such as municipal government, businesses, community organizations, UD and UD students. Its mission is built on three core values: boosting the economy, enhancing nonprofits and promoting civic engagement.
The city’s economy is “anchored in higher ed,” said Rich, referring to his employer, which counts 4,624 employees statewide. But UD is expanding from education and research to “imagination and innovation, which are increasingly seen as the path for success in the 21st century,” he said.
Economic potential outside downtown includes W.L. Gore & Associates on Paper Mill Road, and UD’s Science, Technology and Advanced Research campus on South College Avenue (Bloom Energy’s been there since 2013, and Chemours plans to bring 300 jobs there, Sierer said). Ground was broken in 2018 on a rail station for the Newark Regional Transportation Center on the STAR campus, making the site more attractive. “We need to plan for that future,” Rich said. “It’s kind of exciting.”
Economic development is often promoted by a chamber of commerce, but Newark doesn’t have one (The city doesn’t have an economic development department, either), and the partnership concluded it needed to think outside that box. “A chamber of commerce is not the only thing we need. The business community felt it should be citywide, supported by everyone,” Rich said, noting that concerns heard among the city’s 34,000 residents go beyond what a chamber of commerce traditionally covers, such as the quality of public education and affordable housing.
Sierer expects the partnership to educate Newark about two important elements regarding education. The first: The city doesn’t control the four public schools within its nine square miles; they’re run by the Christina School District. Multiple public, charter and private schools are just outside city limits. The second: “Address concerns and perceptions about the university and its students and how they impact the community,” she said. “The university needs Newark, and Newark needs the university.”
About 850 businesses are licensed by the city, Rich said, “but we and the city don’t know much about them, what they do, what they need.” So the partnership is surveying businesses.
For the same reasons, the partnership is also seeking out nonprofits, and it has so far identified more than 100. “We have to know ourselves,” said Rich, a Newark resident since 1970. “They do important work. We need to help them do it better.”
One early effort was in professional development. Another is the partnership’s website, www.thenewarkpartnership.org. It has a community calendar so groups can avoid conflicts with other events and, of course, people can find events that affect or interest them.
“There’s a need for networking and partnerships” among nonprofits serving Newark’s homeless, working poor, seniors on fixed incomes and other needy residents, Sierer said.
Sierer and Rich expect The Newark Partnership to run mostly new events, probably quarterly. Sierer said Downtown Newark Partnership events “were quite successful, but we’re ready to try new things. Most events will be self-supporting and geared to the time of year.”
One new event was planned to be the First Responders Dinner on Academy, to benefit the Newark FOP 4 Catastrophe Fund and the Aetna Hook & Ladder Capital Campaign Fund. The event was canceled, but committee minutes called it “the first of many creative events that the TNP will be leading for Newark.”
The partnership’s events committee is considering for November a turkey scavenger hunt that will send potential shoppers and diners seeking clues, with completed entries being entered for prizes. Kennett Square has used such a hunt to encourage exploring each part of its farmers market.
That said, at least one event that the Downtown Newark Partnership collaborated on is continuing. Out & About magazine founded the Newark Food and Brew Festival 16 years ago, and collaborated with the city and later the Downtown Newark Partnership.
Civic engagement is wide-ranging. One idea is offering the site for “positive, constructive and healthy” posts about Newark. Another: “The Newark Futures Workshops and other programs.” Engagement also includes reaching out to neighborhood civic associations and coordinating efforts to “get people involved and volunteer,” Sierer said.
A recent Newark Futures Workshop “established an effort to connect nonprofits and give them a place to connect and talk,” the partnership’s Nonprofit Enhancement Committee wrote in its minutes. “It really allows us a platform to move forward and work together in the community.”
The downtown partnership, which operated within the framework of city government, had about a $100,000 budget, and the city has committed up to $150,000 in startup funding for the new partnership, which by contrast is an independent nonprofit, going for 501(c)3 status. Leaders of The Newark Partnership are seeking three to five founding sponsors who’ll commit to funding for a year, and donors. UD is helping with administrative staff, and the partnership eventually plans to finance itself with memberships.
More importantly, it will grow itself by involving more members of the community. “The most valuable resource in the end is the people in the community,” Rich said. “We’ve taken on a large role. We think it will be a big lift, but a good lift.”