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Taking the long view

Zipkin's aims in continuing Newark rebirth is drawing praise from developers

When he was working as Stefan Pryor‘s chief of staff, during the depths of the financial crisis that ravaged real estate, Adam Zipkin got an up-close look at how to break ground on projects in Newark, even when it seemed like the sky was falling.

When he was working as Stefan Pryor‘s chief of staff, during the depths of the financial crisis that ravaged real estate, Adam Zipkin got an up-close look at how to break ground on projects in Newark, even when it seemed like the sky was falling.

Now, though, a heavier share of the load is falling on Zipkin’s shoulders as he takes over as Mayor Cory Booker‘s deputy mayor for development and director of economic and housing development, replacing Pryor, who left this fall to become Connecticut’s education commissioner.

Zipkin said he aims to expand housing development in neighborhoods throughout the city, while continuing to shepherd forward major developments in the downtown area and the port.

“My goals for the department are to really continue to build on the success that we have been having here in Newark, and to continue to use the development boom that we’re having to benefit Newark’s residents with job opportunities and housing opportunities,” said Zipkin, who served as Pryor’s chief of staff for the past five years.

Developer Ron Beit has been working with Zipkin since RBH Group, first proposed Teachers Village, a multiuse, education-focused development in downtown Newark.

“With respect to Adam’s involvement at the nuts-and-bolts level, it’s not just with the economic development, it’s the council, planners, engineers — that’s Adam’s gift,” Beit said. “He’s forged relationships, and he has a fundamental understanding of the process that enables him to coordinate the process within City Hall.”

Beit credited Zipkin with working to relocate Chen School, a daycare center, to Teachers Village by closing a funding gap with a federal community block grant.

“Everything he’s done has been to foster economic opportunities in Newark — which necessarily means fostering relationships with the business community,” Beit said.

Zipkin said creating job opportunities for city residents is a common thread to his efforts. “We’re not just creating economic activity for the sake of creating economic activity, but we’re connecting residents to these opportunities,” Zipkin said, as the city has required projects receiving tax abatements to give residents the first opportunity to interview for new jobs.

Many of the most prominent developments will be in the downtown, including the Courtyard by Marriott hotel and the mixed-use Teachers Village complex.

Prior to working for Newark, Zipkin worked as a lawyer in the city for nearly 15 years, first as a partner in a general practice law firm, then focusing his own practice on aiding city residents, particularly with housing issues.

He said his general-practice experience gave him baseline knowledge of city issues, while the six years he spent representing tenants instilled a desire to serve all residents.

“I look at all projects through that lens,” Zipkin said.

Zipkin said he absorbed much from Pryor’s approach to development.

“He taught me that the way to build a neighborhood is to place equal attention to the smallest, human details that affect people’s daily lives, as well as to the big, transformative projects,” Zipkin said, adding that Pryor didn’t let anything slip through the cracks, and treated every resident with respect and kindness. “My hope is to follow in those footsteps.”

Booker said Zipkin is a passionate advocate for the dispossessed and disenfranchised.

“He is a strong team player and team member, and has a strong vision that will continue to lead the transformation” of Newark, Booker said.

Zipkin has worked with Booker before, as both acted as advocates for tenants after Booker moved to the city.

“The mayor is very engaged on our economic development projects, and the mayor and Stefan had a very close working relationship,” Zipkin said. “I am building on that, and look forward to working ever more closely with the mayor moving forward.”

Those who have worked with Zipkin said he is tireless. He estimates he works 65 to 70 hours a week for Newark, where he has rented an apartment in the Ironbound neighborhood for more than 10 years.

Pryor said Zipkin is the ideal successor to bring current projects to completion, as he’s built strong relationships in the business community.

“I am very pleased that Adam is the person employed to fulfill our agenda and to produce these projects,” Pryor said, noting he and Zipkin worked alongside each other in meetings with developers.

Victor Baker, principal of Newark-based housing developer Mid-Atlantic Alliance, worked with Zipkin while building a subsidized-housing development in the city’s West Ward.

“Adam is very accessible, and he makes it a point to provide as much insight as possible” to help developers’ achieve their goals, Baker said.

Baker also cited a project in the Lincoln Park neighborhood that he proposed earlier this year as an example of how Zipkin works. Baker said there was a potential commercial tenant for the project, but it still had a financing gap, prompting a call to Zipkin.

“Adam gave some helpful input by suggesting we consider New Market Tax Credits,” Baker said, adding Zipkin makes a difference with “the financing and the different tools that will actually make a development a reality in this economy.”

The project is still at a preliminary stage, but Baker said it is on the right track, thanks to Zipkin’s input.

Baker said he has generally heard back from Zipkin within 48 hours of asking a question.

“If you reach out, he does return communications and he offers his input. I can’t overemphasize how crucial that is — that you have help at the municipality,” Baker said.

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