State of the City Address details successes, hopes for East Orange

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EAST ORANGE, NJ — To discuss upcoming projects, bring forth legendary East Orange natives and highlight the most notable events of 2020, Mayor Ted Green delivered the 2021 State of the City Address, streaming live from the Jean L. James Auditorium at Cicely Tyson School’s Performing Arts Center on March 4.

At the event, Green recognized East Orange native Antonique Smith and actress Cicely Tyson. Smith is a Grammy-nominated singer, actress and activist. Despite not being an East Orange resident, Tyson, who died on Jan. 29, was a big supporter of the city’s performing arts school named in her honor.

In addition to mourning Tyson, Green recalled the many losses experienced this past year in the community and in his own family.

“The biggest understatement I could make right now is to say that the year 2020 was tough for all of us,” Green said. “I don’t think anyone could imagine what devastation and heartaches the past year would bring us. I’d like to take a moment to remember the 273 East Orange residents who lost their lives to COVID-19. Many of them were our family members, our co-workers, our neighbors and our friends. They are loved, they are missed, and we will always continue to keep memories of them in our hearts and in our prayers.

“In the year 2020, we’ve learned that we can rise above and overcome anything, including the worst pandemic our country has ever seen,” he continued. “Personally, this past year was one of the greatest losses for me, as I’ve lost both my parents — my mom on March 8 and my dad on Nov. 25, the day after Thanksgiving. But I could not shut down. Tonight, I wanted to feel their presence again. I want to thank them both, and I want them to know I miss both dearly.”

Recalling the dire situation that caused businesses to be shut down during the pandemic, Green discussed how the city alleviated that pressure.

“To help our businesses survive through the pandemic, the Department of Policy, Planning and Development created,” Green said. “That was to create a direct connection between small businesses and our residents. Working hand in hand with our businesses and community, we developed this website to give local business owners a digital platform to share updates, and modifications, as well as adapt to COVID-19 restrictions. We were also able to match over 100 of our local businesses with federal, state and county grants to provide small businesses relief.”

Recognizing how far the city has come and focusing on upcoming projects to move the city forward, Green spoke about redevelopment within the city.

“Of $1.4 million in redevelopment happening now, the building at 475 William St., which was an eyesore for nearly four decades, is officially completed and just recently had a ribbon cut,” Green said. “Soon, the site at 45 S. Grove St. will be opened as a modern, state-of-the-art, residential development. As my good friend Councilman Casim Gomez would say, ‘We pump blood back into that area.’ Our flagship project is $400 million Crossings at Brick Church, which would feature quality rental spaces, such as Burlington Coat Factory, and a large rental, ShopRite, 820 units of housing, a seven-story parking garage, and new sit-down restaurants for our community.

“This project is scheduled to break ground this spring, along with our $1 million streetscape projects to renovate and revitalize the lower part of Main Street in our arts district,” he added.

According to Green, during the past year the town has also worked to preserve and modernize more than 1,000 housing units for seniors and families, including at Norman Towers and Corinthian Towers.

“This year alone, we are breaking ground for projects that will add 216 affordable units to the city’s roster,” Green said. “This includes 80 units in Phase 1 of the Brick Church Project and 60 units for low-income seniors at 160 Halsted St. We also are starting an affordable homeownership program that would allow East Orange residents to buy two-family homes at discount prices.

“We can bring much-needed change to our community without sacrificing the very essence of who we are,” he continued. “Our city creates opportunities for people to make East Orange a great place to live, work, grow or play. I want to truly thank our Redevelopment Committee for their commitment.”

Photos Courtesy of Douglas Adams Jr.