$1M Federal Grant for Newark Park (NJ)

Newark, NJ, 6/26/02 — Mildred Helms Park, a 3.3-acre city-owned park in the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Newark’s South Ward, will get a new lease on life thanks to a $1 million Urban Park and Recreation Recovery (UPARR) grant from the National Park Service. The grant is one of 71 totaling $28.9 million awarded to cities and counties across the nation.

The announcement was made today by representatives of a public-private partnership including the Trust for Public Land, the National Park Service, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the City of Newark, Newark Public Schools, The Prudential Foundation, and community residents.

After years of tight city budgets and insufficient funding for park maintenance, all that remains of Mildred Helms Park is a lot filled with overgrown weeds and artifacts of play equipment that was removed when it became a hazard rather than an amenity. The grant will go toward the $1.5 million makeover for the site outlined by the nonprofit Trust for Public Land (TPL). The park’s revitalization will take place through the Newark City Spaces Program of the Trust for Public Land, which operates on the premise that all children have a fundamental right to learn and play in safe, accessible outdoor recreational areas.

“This new funding and the committed partnership promises to breathe new life into Mildred Helms Park and return it to a place that is friendly to children and families rather than serving as a haven for drug deals and other crimes,” said Leigh Rae, director of the New Jersey field office of the Trust for Public Land.

“My administration is committed to providing our residents with the highest quality of life and the finest possible recreation facilities. Working with our federal, state, and private partners, the Trust for Public Land and their funders, we are proud to announce this $1 million Urban Parks Recovery grant to restore Mildred Helms Park,” said Mayor Sharpe James.

The park’s redevelopment will be managed by the Trust for Public Land as the organization designated in the grant to oversee the project. Proposed improvements include upgrading the appearance, usability, and safety of the park with new fencing, equipment, landscaping, and amenities that will encourage students and area residents to enjoy the outdoors.

Decisions regarding the final design of the park will be made through a participatory design process run by the Trust for Public Land that will include teachers, parents and students from Clinton Avenue Elementary School and community residents through the participation of the Mildred Helms Restoration Committee. The participatory design process will begin this winter, with construction slated for the fall of 2003 and the rejuvenated park to be complete by the spring of 2004.

“We’re excited that the vision of the community has been responded to by government and we look forward to seeing this vision become a reality,” said Reverend Wilkes of Trinity United Methodist Church and the Mildred Helms Park Restoration Committee.

The Clinton Hill Collaborative, of which the Mildred Helms Park Restoration Committee is a part, has been meeting regularly for the past three years to bring public support and other resources to the park. Their efforts have included park clean-ups, planting programs, and resident-based safety and anti-graffiti initiatives.

In addition to the federal funding, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Green Acres Program has committed $175,000 to the project. To attract important public funds from UPARR and Green Acres, the Trust for Public Land has raised critical private funds, with lead support committed by The Prudential Foundation and additional support from MCJ Foundation, the National Recreation Foundation, the Schumann Fund for New Jersey, and other generous partners. With these funding commitments in place, TPL will work to raise the remaining $300,000 necessary to meet the $1.5 million needed to improve and restore Mildred Helms Park.

“Prudential’s interest in Newark’s playgrounds stemmed from our Prudential Playground Initiative where we learned that not only did Newark need permanent school-based community recreation spaces, but by building them through partnerships with community groups and government agencies, they would be successfully maintained,” said Gabriella Morris, president of The Prudential Foundation.

“The State is glad to partner with the National Park Service through the federal Urban Parks and Recreation Recovery Program to provide much needed capital funding for recreation facilities located in economically distressed areas of New Jersey,” said NJ Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell.

“The National Park Service is committed to creating and enhancing recreational opportunities and nowhere is that support needed more than our nation’s urban communities,” said Maryanne Gerbauckas, superintendent of the Edison National Historic Site in West Orange, a unit of the National Park Service. The Urban Park and Recreation Recovery (UPARR) program provides matching grants and technical assistance to economically distressed urban communities.

Founded in 1977, The Prudential Foundation is the nonprofit grant-making organization of Prudential Financial, Inc. It is part of Prudential’s Community Resources Division, a strategic combination of three units: the Foundation, which strives to build children and families’ self sufficiency; the Social Investment Program, which originates and manages socially beneficial investments; and Local Initiatives, which coordinates employee volunteerism and fosters community outreach.

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a national nonprofit organization that conserves land for people to improve the quality of life in communities and to protect natural and historic resources for future generations. In 1995, TPL launched its Newark City Spaces Program as a response to the overwhelming need for additional safe playgrounds in the underserved communities of New Jersey’s largest city. To date, ten City Spaces sites have been completed in Newark and New York.