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Follow the Money
In the 1960’s Newark was a town divided, between the ‘Haves’ and the ‘Have-Nots’. Hugh Addonizio was Mayor, and 'King' of City Hall, and the money flowed to 'favored' projects in key parts of the city. Maybe Newark wasn’t exactly Tammany Hall, but the comparison was close enough for some. By the end of the decade, the city was in crisis, its Mayor had been indicted on federal tax evasion charges, a riot had made national headlines and consumed the city’s spirit for decades to come. City Hall’s shadow of corruption would linger. After Addonizio, in strides a gallant 'shiny knight' who is elected as its first African-American Mayor, Kenneth Gibson-- and the rumblings among the citizenry were calmed.
During the heyday of Hugh Addonizio, the city began construction of a sports stadium for the youth of the city who lived in the East Ward, also referred to as the Ironbound. Money was appropriated to build the stadium in an industrial area, close to a wrecking yard strewn with deteriorating metals, and seeping motor lubricants that leeched into the ground at a clip undeterred for decades. Behind the property lay a Conrail freight railroad track as well as an assortment of factories within a city block of this brand new stadium.
Construction was begun in 1966, but six years later it was still uncompleted. Its main field so poorly devised that soil seepage was deemed to create a health hazard, is it any wonder ? What would one expect next to a wrecking yard ? According to the Star-Ledger’s coverage in April of 1972, “poor planning was generally blamed for a variety of problems, including faulty location of pole vaults, placement of basketball courts and similar problems throughout the stadium.” This then led Mayor Kenneth Gibson to propose the solution for future projects, that of creating a recreation and parks department, noting that, "We must have a recreation program before we can operate the stadium." (The Star-Ledger, April 1972.) It would seem that Gibson was concerned with how shoddy planning had led to the catastrophe of the stadium’s condition.
How the city permitted such a haphazard placement of a major construction project in such circumstances, is anyone's guess. Who profited ? Who were the engineers that signed off on the project ? Which companies put up the monstrosity to begin with, who were the construction companies, and who were their owners ? How did they get their bids approved ? Who profited ? Its 2005, and the stadium still languishes as a monument to Newark politics, to Newark City Hall inefficiency.
The Scott-Krueger mansion is another monument to ‘inefficiency’. This past winter we reported on the developments associated with that project. After our report first was published, another window, this time on the second floor was opened to the weather, presumably by someone from the city, and the building’s interior continues to be further exposed to the weather—in fact it was all winter (see for yourself).
As I write this, that window is still open.
But let’s get back to the ‘Ironbound Stadium.’ By 1987 the soccer field adjacent to the stadium was found contaminated with PCB’s and an estimated cleanup cost was pegged at $4 million. No money was ever appropriated for the clean-up. The onsite contamination was so bad that the city gave up trying to build an in ground Olympic size pool and instead opted for a more expensive above ground one, which was completed and opened to the public this past summer.
Above ground pool/Aquacenter and stadium bleachers in background
Stands/Bleachers are falling apart
Over the years as the stadium languished unused and decrepit, city government enmeshed itself in other stadium projects. On October 17, 1996, the City Council passed its approval on a sportsplex tagged at $22 million over the vocal opposition of community residents. Whereas money was non-existent for the repairs necessary for Ironbound Stadium, it nonetheless materialized for a new project to be located next to the Passaic River. The City was successful in obtaining a $3 million dollar grant from the CRDA for the sportsplex (Star-Ledger 2/19/97, p. 21).
As it turned out, the Sportsplex was never built, instead the City dug deep and came up with $34 million between it and Essex County, for the construction of a semi-private stadium called Bears Stadium, since used by a semi-pro baseball team—The Bears. When that stadium was built and opened to the public on April 28, 2000, it was touted as a great success (Star-Ledger 04/28/2000 p.42). Five years later, the stadium is hemorrhaging fistfuls of money every month; it has become another Newark white elephant.
This past week I approached Augusto Amador, Councilman for the East Ward, and I asked him about what the city intends to do with the Ironbound Stadium. Amador has expressed interest in the stadium in the past. Two years ago he was quoted by the Newark Star-Ledger (07/10/03 County News p.20) as being in the midst of forming a public-private partnership to rehabilitate the Stadium. In fact a non-profit entitled the Ironbound Sports Authority was incorporated that year, which included the following Board members: Edison Parking, Tony Seabra, Mario Ferreira and Joe Gomes.
Three years earlier Mr. Amador had been showing the stadium to the professional soccer team the Metrostars, who initially showed interest in the site, (Bergen Record 04/19/00, p. 3 Sports). But that never materialized. So the question remains what of the Ironbound Stadium ? Generations of kids have grown, wistfully looking at a dilapidated field they couldn’t use, and have never been able to use.
According to Councilman Amador, the City is in the process of finishing plans for the re-location of East Side High School onto the Ironbound Stadium site. Last year the Schools Construction Corporation, a public entity formed by order of Governor McGreevey, in order to contain wasteful spending, over-ruled the Newark Public Schools in purchasing the Ballantine property, which is in close proximity to the Ironbound Stadium. That transaction which never came to pass, was pinned at the exorbitant sum of $36 million (Star-Ledger 05/05/04 p.35).
Looking east at the field, track and scoreboard. White tower at left is part of Tidewater property.
Amador confirmed that the city is now in negotiations to acquire the Tidewater property, the former wrecking yard, that according to city property records value the property at $2.2 million. Although, if you think about it, what is the property’s true worth, if hazardous materials onsite will entail several million dollars in clean-up costs ? I failed to ask Councilman Amador, if Tidewater shouldn’t first be mandated by the state to clean up its own mess. I guess it’s a question that needs to be asked.
One question that I did ask was; why didn’t the city obtain the CRDA funds to salvage the Ironbound Stadium when the Sportsplex deal fell apart ? Or if not those funds, then other County or State funding ? Councilman Amador couldn’t provide an answer; he said he hadn’t been involved in any such discussions, he hadn't been elected yet.
As I write this article the City is plowing ahead with the demolition of the Renaissance Mall, in full view of an advertising banner heralding the projected Devils Arena. A public-private project that promises to gobble up $300 million of taxpayer funds. Money the City doesn't have. Newark Firemen currently complain of inadequate equipment. City vehicles are having trouble finding gas because the city aparently isn't paying its fuel bills. A recent visit to Newark City Hall, provided me the opportunity to see for myself what city workers have been complaining of for some time; electrical wires dangling, rotting extension cords, crumbling plaster, roof leaks and water stains... City Hall is a mess !
Projects come and go, in this city, millions of dollars are spent with little in the way of actual planning. Bonds are obtained and sold, commissions are made. Construction companies, architects, engineers, lawyers, consultants, are all contracted and paid. Councilmen and mayors make high 5 and 6 figure salaries, and in the midst of it all, the city schools are among the worst in the nation. East Side High is pegged as the 3rd worst high school in the state, according to NJ state records. Someone should reflect on the fact that buildings don’t make schools… instead, people and intelligence build schools. Obviously these are in short supply in this City.
Projects come and go, but the city continues with deplorable housing for the poor, if any at all, at last count 5-8 thousand were on a Housing Authority waiting list for affordable housing. The federal government is currently investigating the Newark Housing Authority for retaining funds which were supposed to have been spent to house the poor of Newark. Council members spend more on postage, cellular phones, and restaurant bills than many Newarkers garner in wages per year.
Say, what’s the Muckraker adage according to Ralph Nader ? Ah yes, ‘follow the money.’
Posted April 30, 2005
URL: www.thecitizenfsr.org SM 2000-2011
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