Newark mayor delivers State of the City address

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(AP) - After a challenging year with a horrifictriple murder that refocused attention on crime in New Jersey'slargest city, its mayor Thursday declared his optimism for thefuture, announcing plans for a new hotel, lofts and children'smuseum for the downtown area.

"In 2007, we kept our focus, we kept our momentum and wecontinued to march toward what I believe to be Newark's certaindestiny: to be America's leading city in urban transformation,"Mayor Cory Booker declared in his second state of the city address.

While its neighbors of Jersey City and Hoboken have attractedsignificant residential development, Newark, even with its majortransportation network, has waited for a nibble of interest.

Booker on Thursday announced some successes: new lofts in an oldindustrial development with 20 percent of the units designatedaffordable; a new 350-room hotel and conference center, the firstin downtown Newark in decades, and 10,000 square feet of retailspace near the new Prudential Center.

He also said the state's Children's Museum has decided to locatein Newark, at a 60,000 square-foot space downtown. A new 100,000square-foot office building will also provide space for technologycompanies.

These projects add to another major project for downtown. TheNew Jersey Performing Arts Center last month announced itspartnership with a developer to build the first new apartments indowntown Newark in 40 years; financing must still be secured forthe $200 million project.

Booker said the attitude toward development is now different, nolonger giving away city resources.

"Our new land disposition and abatement policies linkdiscounted land and tax incentives to hiring locally, includingminorities, and building with green standards, and buildingaffordable and work force housing," he said.

Booker, who took office in July 2006, didn't mention hispredecessor, Sharpe James, by name. James is accused of sellingland in cut-rate deals to a crony who then resold the parcels at aprofit. James goes on trial on federal corruption charges laterthis month.

During his one-hour speech, Booker also said he wants to focusthe city government's efforts on helping families and children.

He introduced new initiatives that range from adding four newbuses for seniors to a program to help low-income grandparentsraise their grandchildren to a new center aimed at helping fathers.He also announced more than $40 million for parks, including $19from the city and $13 million raised privately.

Booker also discussed the city's declining crime rate, notingthat in the first month of 2008, the city reported two homicidescompared to 11 in January last year.

"I will not settle for a city that is doing good in crimereduction when great is possible, and I will not accept greatnesswhen we can have the best," he said.

Booker delivered his speech to an invitation-only crowd of 500at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. The annual address wasmoved from City Hall to accommodate more people.

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