Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium, originally simply Riverfront Stadium, was a 6,200-seat baseball park in Newark, New Jersey, United States, that was home to the baseball teams of two of Newark's universities: the Rutgers-Newark Scarlet Raiders, who play in the New Jersey Athletic Conference as part of NCAA Division III, and the NJIT Highlanders, who play in the Atlantic Sun Conference as part of NCAA Division I. Demolition of the stadium, which was a whole nineteen years old, took place in 2019, representing a notable waste of resources and a symbol of the failure of the City of Newark to promote a component of what was supposed to be a revival of its downtown.
The impetus for the stadium's construction was the awarding of an expansion franchise in the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball, an independent minor baseball league, in 1999. The team took the name Newark Bears, and the stadium hosted its first regular season baseball game on July 16, 1999 when the Bears took on the Lehigh Valley Black Diamonds. The Bears played in the stadium from 1999 until 2013, having later moved to the Canadian-American Association of Professional Baseball, before the team was folded.
The stadium was named in honor of the original Bears, who were the top farm club of the New York Yankees from 1946 until 1949, and the Newark Eagles, who played in the Negro Leagues. Above the press boxes, the stadium featured a Hall of Fame bearing the names of famed players from the Bears and the Eagles and baseball players from Newark.
The stadium cost $34 million to build, and left Essex County with $2 million a year in bond payments when it was sold in 2016 for $23 million for a commercial-residential project named Riverfront Square.
Efforts by historic preservationists to save architectural components of the stadium, including the grill work on the stadium's entrances, Jackie Robinson's Number 42 atop the scoreboard, and the light poles, were refused by the developer. Local politicians and museums refused to be involved in preservation or salvage efforts in spite of the strong connection of the stadium to African American history locally and nationally.
The Newark Bears had joined the Atlantic League at its founding in 1998 but played their 'home' games at The Ballpark at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, Connecticut during that first season, sharing the park with the Bridgeport Bluefish. Since construction of the stadium was still not finished in 1999, the Bears played their first 20 home games at Skylands Park in Augusta, New Jersey, sharing the facility with the New Jersey Cardinals.
The Bears have nicknamed the stadium "Brick City" or "The Den" representing the home of a bear.
Originally, the stadium was to be built along the Passaic River, perhaps at or near Riverbank Park, but the eventual site was at Broad and Orange Streets. The block of Orange Street, between Broad Street and McCarter Highway, was vacated to allow for the ballpark to be built.
In 2001, the Bears added "Bears & Eagles" to the name of the park. The new name reflected the heritage represented by both the International League's Bears, and the Negro National League Newark Eagles, both of whom had played at Ruppert Stadium (demolished in 1967) in the area now called the Ironbound.
The stadium was across the street from New Jersey Transit's Broad Street Station. Opened July 17, 2006, the Riverfront Stadium station on the Newark Light Rail provides service from Newark Penn Station.
In 2019, the stadium was demolished to make way for a new development called Riverfront Square. The new development will sit atop a sealed hazardous waste site.
The destruction of stadium, one of the early baseball stadiums of architecture firm Populous, represented many things: a lack of vision of the city's leaders; failure of the city, county, and team officials to market baseball and the team; a tremendous waste of physical resources in an era of increasing environmental concerns; a failure to engage the African American community in their own local history and connection to baseball; and an excellent use for a property along two highways, a busy railroad, and a hazardous waste site.
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