Ken Gibson, who died last week, knew it was crucial to keep business in the city, and built a lasting partnership with Prudential.
As visitors enter Newark from Penn Station, they often walk through Gateway Center’s labyrinth of 1970s-era tunnels and bridges.
Gateway, built by Prudential, is just one project completed after Ken Gibson became Newark’s mayor in 1970. Gibson, the first black mayor of a major northeastern city, died on March 29 at 86.
At the outset, the bridges were derided as a “bridge over Newark’s poor” by many. Said The New York Times in 1972: “Commuters and visitors can now engage in a wide variety of business and pleasure activities here, from buying stocks to swimming, without setting foot in the streets.”
“We’re excited to help reimagine Gateway with a vision that opens the complex to Newarkers and visitors with street-level retail and a welcoming concourse that will be more inviting than it is today. ”
Gibson, an engineer by training with a keen eye for functionality, didn’t agree. While not perfect, Gibson saw the complex as a symbol that investors were willing to come to Newark, according to Tom Banker, who served as budget director and assistant administrator during Gibson’s administration.
“Nothing was wrong with the tunnel because it was important—functionally—to get businesses to bring their employees to Newark,” Banker says, including Prudential’s 8,000 employees at the time. Gibson understood Newark couldn’t “fly from a free fall,” Banker notes. “Without Ken Gibson, Newark crashes and burns.”
As Newark celebrates Gibson’s life, Gateway is about to see a new day as the city’s continued renewal is fulfilling the mayor’s ultimate dream of a city that would revive brick by brick.
Prudential recently joined a group of five investors to revamp the complex. And far from keeping people off the street, Prudential’s investments in Newark aim, in part, to give pedestrians vibrant city streets, filled with street-level retail or parks like Military Park.
“We’re excited to help reimagine Gateway with a vision that opens the complex to Newarkers and visitors with street-level retail and a welcoming concourse that will be more inviting than it is today,” says Reuben Teague, who heads Prudential’s real estate investment portfolio for Impact and Responsible Investing.
“Newark’s on the rise,” according to current Mayor Ras Baraka, and many say all of the city’s mayors since 1986 can thank Gibson’s slow and steady approach to rebuilding the city after the 1967 rebellion. While Newark inched back to life, other cities struggling with racial tensions imploded.
Gibson’s also credited with bringing PSEG to Newark among other companies and expanding Newark’s airport from one terminal. And he carefully built a lasting partnership with Prudential, asking the company for help as he entered office. Prudential—and the Newark business community—responded well beyond monetary investment. Robert Smith, a Prudential vice president, served as Gibson’s first business administrator, and a team of executives from across Newark formed a committee of advisors.
And, adding to its $47 million Gateway investment, in the early 1970s Prudential spent $23 million to help build a nursing center, $11 million in industrial loans and $10 million toward new housing. Dan Flaherty, a professor of economics at Columbia University, says Gibson drove the effort to get Prudential’s support for a growing number of new nonprofits that sought to bolster the city. He agrees that without Gibson “the city falls apart.”
“Gibson stabilized the city and the city’s finances,” Flaherty said. Perhaps most important, when it came to retaining and attracting new business, and healing a broken city, “He showed that it was possible for white people to prosper in a black city” and for the city’s residents to benefit from the contribution of its leading businesses.
For media inquiries about impact investing at Prudential, contact Caitrin O’Sullivan.