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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

What Happened to the Proposed Children's Museum of New Jersey?

Above: The site where the museum was proposed.

Newark, New Jersey: Within the past 10 years, the City of Newark has seen an increase in developments rising from former parking lots, and historic buildings being rehabilitated for new use. However, the opposite scenario has unfolded over the past five years at one property in the city's East Ward, where a museum was once proposed. 

At a press conference in April of 2010, Newark officials spoke of the planned Children's Museum of New Jersey at 399 Market Street, near Newark Penn Station. The museum was slated to be housed in the former TAP Air Portugal building, which would undergo renovations for the project. 

"This has been a project we've been working on now for years", Cory Booker, who was Newark's mayor at the time, told reporters, adding that "the city is committed to working with, and continuing to work with, the leadership of the Children's Museum to make it a reality here for the City of Newark". 

Yet, nearly four years later, the building was torn down, and today, the land where the five story office tower once stood is now used as a parking lot. 

So why did the museum never open? Lack of funding and a poor economy, according to planners, was to blame.

Edison Properties announced in 2009 that it was giving the building to the museum free of rent and taxes for five years. However, museum planners were still unable to gain the public and private funds necessary to operate it, and development never began. Edison Properties demolished the building in 2013, and the company still owns the ParkFast lot that sits at the site today.

"A children’s museum was and still is an incredible opportunity for Newark in terms of early childhood education, school readiness and economic development", Siobhan McDermott, who was the management consultant for the museum, told Essex County Place. 

McDermott said that the museum was originally proposed for Union County. However, the proposed location shifted to 399 Market Street in Newark due to its location near the "greatest concentration of mass transit that would have afforded the most access for families of all financial needs...as opposed to a suburban setting". She cited the economy of 2008-2010 as a reason why "the project went to sleep". 

The museum would have been designed for children with special needs in mind, and would have had several exhibits themed around specific regions of New Jersey like the Jersey Shore.

The only children's museum currently operating in Essex County is the Jersey Explorer Children's Museum in East Orange. The New Jersey Children's Museum in Paramus, Bergen County closed last year. 

McDermott says that she still hopes that a children's museum will open in Newark, calling such museums "tremendous economic engines for communities". 

"Now may be a very good time for the museum to reignite", said McDermott, who felt that "the city is booming in many ways and it would be wonderful to have such an enormous attraction...in the heart of Downtown Newark". 

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