Suddenly, a new picture of Newark
Pru Center and NJPAC open what the city hopes is a different era
Monday, October 29, 2007
BY JULIE O'CONNOR AND CLAIRE HEININGER
Well-dressed music lovers filtered into the building, lured by a storied symphony orchestra and a juiced-up jazz act. Hours later, a decidedly more jeans-clad crowd assembled a few blocks away, chattering anxiously in line as buzz built for Bon Jovi.
As Newark opened both its major entertainment venues -- the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and the days-old Prudential Center -- on the same day for the first time, the scenes yesterday sketched an unfamiliar picture that New Jersey's largest city hopes will become routine.
The shows drew thousands of visitors to downtown Newark by car and mass transit. Although the NJPAC crowd left at roughly the same time Bon Jovi fans started to arrive, the streets around both venues appeared devoid of major traffic snarls or parking woes.
At NJPAC, the St. Petersburg Philharmonic played to a near-sold-out 2,750-seat theater, while jazz group Irvin Mayfield and the Hombres drew about 500 to the center's smaller Victoria Theater, officials said. And at the Prudential Center -- hosting its fourth event since opening Thursday night -- Bon Jovi played the third of 10 shows. It was unclear last night how many people attended the Bon Jovi performance, but the tally stood at 16,132 Thursday and 16,153 Friday, said Joy Gulledge, a spokeswoman for the Prudential Center. A sellout crowd of 17,600 watched the New Jersey Devils hockey team at the arena Saturday night.
Outside both venues and on nearby streets, yesterday's concertgoers largely echoed the experiences of those who attended other shows during the $375 million new arena's opening weekend. Newark has its flaws, they said, but also plenty of potential as a cultural center poised for a rebound.
"If you're not familiar with the city, you tend to not want to stray too far from your destination," said Susan Donohue, 53, of Annandale, who attended the Irvin Mayfield show with husband Timothy and two friends.
More restaurants within walking distance would help keep her group in the city after shows, rather than heading out to Jersey City as is their custom, Donohue said.
"I've watched Newark rise and fall over the past 43 years," she said. "I do see a trend of improvement, and hopefully it keeps up."
Greeting the crowds with approval, NJPAC usher Saundra Cook, 57, predicted Newark will "change dramatically over the next 10 years." She called safety concerns "hype" but acknowledged too few dining options near the performing arts center.
"Most people who approach me, they'd just like to eat after a show," Cook said. "I think if they had restaurants a little bit closer, that would help tremendously. Outside that, everything is cool."
To make sure those drawn by the Prudential Center and NJPAC know what else Newark has to offer, the city has been handing out cards to people arriving at Penn Station that list different restaurant destinations, said Lupe Todd, a spokeswoman for Mayor Cory Booker. Newark also will update its Web site to add the Prudential Center to its list of attractions, which includes NJPAC, Newark Symphony Hall and the Newark Museum.
"As the weeks go on, we've just got to keep everything going," Todd said yesterday. "That's the challenge and I think that our city is up to the challenge."
The confluence of the Philharmonic and Bon Jovi performances didn't require the city to take any different measures with car or pedestrian traffic than it had on the Prudential Center's first three nights, Todd said. But for a concert that draws more Newark residents -- such as R. Kelly's upcoming appearance -- city officials will discuss the possibility of different routes to help smooth the flow of foot traffic, she said.
Many pedestrians attending the Bon Jovi shows have been suburbanites, with mass transit bringing them to and from Newark. NJ Transit has seen a boost of nearly 4,000 riders more than usual passing through Penn Station on the nights since the Prudential Center's debut, with another 500 extra per night traveling through Broad Street Station, spokesman Dan Stessel said. About 2,000 people more than normal took PATH trains out of Newark following the opening night concert between 11 p.m. and midnight Thursday, said Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
"That's a very, very respectable market share for a brand new arena," Stessel said, adding there did not appear to be train capacity issues as a result of the NJPAC and Prudential events yesterday. "It's gratifying and we hope to build on it."
Staff writer Alexi Friedman contributed to this report.