“Newark still has a lot to prove,” Dressel adds. “Just because we’re building an arena right now doesn’t mean [we can sit back]. And Booker understands that. We have a mayor with high hopes for sensible, responsible development. That leads to good things.”

The city is aiming to capitalize on two of its biggest assets: Newark Liberty International Airport and a bustling seaport, both of which are tremendous “engines” for economic growth, Pryor says.

“The potential for industrial growth in Newark is limitless,” he adds. “There’s an infinite demand for land sufficiently sized, in the 10- to 15-acre range, to support major distribution uses affiliated with the port. We’re working hard to enable that kind of development.”

Private residential and commercial development also seems to be on the upswing. The Prudential Center project, which will also serve as a major concert and events venue, is expected to boost nearby retail and restaurant activity.

And on the residential front, Pryor’s department had already considered 22 proposals from developers for residential condominium projects so far this year in Newark. In 2006, it handled 12 proposals.

“There is a condo market in Newark right now, and that’s a new phenomenon,” Pryor says. “That’s a wonderful sign that the metropolitan region sees Newark as a viable residential area.”

A Residential Boom on the Horizon? 

One of Newark’s higher-profile residential projects is actually a major conversion of 1180 Raymond Boulevard, an Art Deco-style office building in the heart of downtown that sat dormant since 1986.

Now, the building has become Eleven80, the city’s first high-rise luxury residential development in almost a half-century in a $75 million conversion overseen by Bovis Lend Lease of New York, which served as construction manager. The project, completed last year, created 317 market-rate rental apartment units, 220 of which are already occupied.

As part of the renovation, the project team restored the building’s façade with new terra cotta and precast stone units, replaced original brick, and repainted or restored exterior cast iron, steel, and bronze. In addition, crews completely renovated the building’s marble lobby.

Of the rented units at Eleven80, 80% are occupied by 20- to 30-year-old tenants who originally came from New York, says Arthur Stern of New York-based Cogswell Realty, which is developer on the project. Rents are starting at around $1,500.

Though Pryor’s office lists 20 residential projects in various stages of development in Newark, Stern says it’s still too early to say Newark’s residential market is “booming.” Despite considerable interest from developers, the cost of building may still be too expensive when factoring in the reason the city is attractive to new residents – low rent.

“What every developer is grappling with is trying to figure out how to make the numbers work,” Stern adds. “While there are a number of people who want to build, which is a tremendous reason for optimism, right now the numbers just don’t pencil out. But the opportunities are wide open if we can figure out how to bridge that gap and make it work.”

Beyond the residential push is a broader slate of cultural and civic-oriented projects in other parts of the city.

Hillier has taken on design assignments for several such projects, including the planned renovation and expansion of the Newark Public Library, a redevelopment plan for the Symphony Hall West neighborhood, a new Museum of African-American Music in Lincoln Park, and new precinct stations for the Newark Police Department.

Hillier is also helping to map out a long-term strategic plan for the Newark Fire Department’s facilities, as well as the Newark Public School system.

Meanwhile, as the arena project nears completion, new restaurants, bars, and galleries are popping up throughout the city, which Hillier’s Griffin says is reason to be optimistic that new residents will soon follow.

“There need to be things to do [to make living in a city attractive],” he adds. “But people have to be living there to make those places safe. We’re trying to do work in all of those areas that will help the city achieve its full potential. The city is heading in a very positive direction, and we haven’t seen everything that can happen yet.”