EAST ORANGE, NJ — When East Orange Mayor Ted Green gave his First 100 Days Address in the Cicely Tyson School of the Fine and Performing Arts theater on Thursday, April 19, he said there were two accomplishments he was particularly proud of related to economic redevelopment and revitalization in the city. The first was the kickoff of the $30 million mixed-use commercial and residential development on the site of the old Arcadian Gardens on Sussex Avenue; the second was the city tax sale on Thursday, April 5, that allowed a group of city stakeholders — including city employees and East Orange natives — to become property owners.
“At the beginning of this month, we were able to break ground on a development I know our city has been waiting for almost two decades,” said Green on Thursday, April 19. “Just around the corner from where I grew up, we finally broke ground on Sussex Avenue, the former Arcadian Gardens, affectionately known as ‘Little City.’ This is where I grew up. … And for over 200 families, it was home.”
But now Green said the Sussex Avenue Urban Renewal project is a sign of the progress his administration intends to share with the entire city. He also thanked the East Orange City Council and the developers working on the project, J.G. Petrucci Company and TD+Partners.
“This pioneering redevelopment will transform our underserved neighborhood by renovating the 8.3 acre brownfield site at 11 Sussex Ave.,” Green said. “This economic development project will house a brand new location for ABC Supply Co; it will be the home of H2Grow, an urban farm and education center; and, for the first time in over 15 years, it will once again have high-quality workforce housing, along with 30,000-square-feet of commercial space. Best of all, it is development without displacement. We’re talking about over 200 construction jobs and, upon completion, it will provide several permanent jobs for East Orange residents.”
Green said, “This $30 million dollar project is a reflection of what we see as the future of East Orange.” The other part of that vision was revealed Thursday, April 5, during the administration’s first public property auction, which featured 34 city-owned properties that had been foreclosed, due to unpaid property taxes.
“I am proud to report that all 34 properties were sold, generating $2.5 million cash. That was double our goal,” said Green. “That’s 34 properties back on our tax rolls. Buyers came from near and far, but perhaps one of the most impactful purchases were made by East Orange natives and firefighters, young men under the age of 35 who pooled their resources together and bought an abandoned mixed-use building that had formerly been a childhood hangout.”
The young men Green mentioned included members of the Fire Division and the Young Professionals of East Orange. He asked them to stand during his address to be recognized by attendees as examples of the spirit needed to accomplish his vision of the city’s progress.
“These are the types of success stories that will continue to drive the Green administration,” said the mayor. “We are creating a city where everyone — residents, employees, businesses and visitors — want to invest, live, work, learn and play.”
YPEO co-founding member Akeem Cunningham was joined at the mayor’s speech by fellow members Casim E. Gomez, Ajah Baldwin, artist and designer Kaylan Jones and Marquis Salley. In addition, Cunningham, Salley and one of the group’s newer members, Davizael Sanchez, attended the Oranges-Maplewood NAACP 105th Annual Freedom Fund Awards Banquet at the Wilshire Caterers in West Orange on Sunday, April 29, where they discussed why they had been joined by 32 of their fellow firefighters and others in buying a building at the Public Property Auction on Thursday, April 5.
“Later for the storefront, we brought the whole building at 40 North Park St.,” said Cunningham on Sunday, April 29. “We actually took the time to buy a building in our city at the last city auction. That was imperative because, when you come to our city, there are so many people buying up property who don’t look like us and it’s about time that we need to buy our block back and show people that we can reinvest in our community and we want to uplift our community. So we didn’t want to leave the ‘hood or go somewhere else or invest somewhere else. We believe in Mayor Green and what he’s doing in the city of East Orange and we want to help him build up East Orange as well.”
Sanchez said buying the building and the redevelopment of the old “Little City” site hit close to home since he grew up right across the street from Arcadian Gardens.
“I’m blessed to be able to be in this space with these guys to be able to open up the world to me,” said Sanchez on Sunday, April 29. “I never knew this life existed. I grew up in Kazuri across the street from ‘Little City.’ I was raised on $8,000 a year. Raised on food stamps. East Orange has shown me that, whatever I can really think of and dream of, I can really reach and get. All I have to do is put in that hard work. I’m just grateful and happy to be in this space with these guys, who I’m starting to learn to be my brothers.”
Salley said he shared Green, Cunningham, and Sanchez’s sentiments.
“When you put positivity out, you get positivity back; that’s how we look at it,” said Salley on Sunday, April 29. “We’re out here, spreading the good word. Everyone that has something to add to that work, they’re going to follow us and join us. So, of course we’re going to welcome them with open arms.”