In a wide-ranging State of the City Address Wednesday, perhaps the best news was that Mayor Adrian O. Mapp had to share was the surge in development, with over 60 potential projects representing a more than $230 million dollar investment in the city.
When he took office in January 2014, he said, the word on the street was that "Plainfield is a difficult place to do business." Mapp filled a vacant cabinet-level post for economic development and examined how developers fared as they moved through the process. Now, he said, the city has a reputation for welcoming serious business partners and investors have taken note.
Mapp listed a 212-unit, $59 million luxury apartment project on South Avenue and two major projects in the city's West End as examples of the change.
He also announced an agreement with a developer for the vacant Muhlenberg site where a medical center closed in 2008 and said it will have "a major health care component."
In all, the address took over an hour. Click the link to see the full 2017 State of the City Address.
Mapp also reported improvements in public safety, fiscal controls, community health and recreation. In addition, an outstanding resident from each of the city's four wards was honored and given a plaque. The recipients were First Ward resident Nelson Santana, a businessman and commissioner with the Plainfield Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs; Second Ward resident Mary Burgwinkle, an advocate for the arts and member of the Plainfield Charter Study Commission; Third Ward resident Bob Wilson, not present but described as a civic leader and mentor to youth; and Fourth Ward resident Stacey Welch, an entrepreneur and owner of LiVay Sweet Shop who also organizes charity drives.
Council members Barry Goode, Joylette Mills-Ransome, Cory Storch, Charles McRae and Council President Rebecca Williams attended the event, along with many cabinet members.
Looking ahead, Mapp announced proposed improvements at Hannah Atkins Center to produce "a compelling community space with updated recreational and community revitalizing features" that will make it a hub for community services. The future also holds improvements at Rushmore Playground and Seidler Field, as well as a new skate park in Madison Avenue Park, he said.
"It's going to be an exciting year, but we're not done yet," he said, going on to describe goals including a permanent "One-Seat Ride" to New York City, road improvements, an on-time budget and technology training for students.
On a personal note, before describing a new educational campaign Mapp traced his beginnings in Barbados, where his grandmother cared for him while his mother worked on Long island, N.Y.
""We were very poor, and we knew it," he said, noting how he often went hungry and poorly clothed. Through it all, his grandmother drilled into him the need to gain an education. After migrating to America, he said, "I worked my way from Union County College to Rutgers University, from Rutgers to Fairleigh Dickinson .." persevering despite many challenges.
Believing education and early financial literacy are keys to success, Mapp now wants to establish "Plainfield Promise," a program to provide a bank account of up to $500 for every child starting school in Plainfield and a challenge for students to complete high school and qualify for college and, if they can't afford it, a promise to pay for them to attend Union County College. See more on Plainfield Promise here.
As the crowd at the Senior Center began to disperse after hearing the address, Plaintalker asked a couple of people for their impressions. Shirley Dean said she was most impressed by the Plainfield Promise concept, while Elizabeth Lee said she was amazed at Mapp's recounting of his early struggle to succeed.
"It made me feel kind of sad," she said, though admiring his determination.