Today, Newark City Council will vote on the Lang Development Group’s revised proposals for their hotel project on Main Street, which was previously slated to be the tallest building on Main Street.
Melanie Gasmen / THE REVIEW

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Today, Newark City Council will vote on the Lang Development Group’s revised proposals for their hotel project on Main Street, which was previously slated to be the tallest building on Main Street. According to Lang’s website, the changes include a 40 reduction in the original number of hotel rooms and a seven-story residential building with 48 units “on the back”.

The original Hyatt hotel proposal was valued at $ 30 million and had seven floors with 144 rooms. It also comprised around 19,500 square meters of “office space”, more than 10,000 square meters of “commercial space”, an open terrace and a parking garage.

According to Chris Locke, General Counsel and Senior Vice President of the Lang Development Group, there are “two major changes” between the original proposal and the new one that will soon be presented to the council.

The current proposal reduces the size of the hotel from 144 to 104 rooms and eliminates all office space. According to Locke, Lang is also planning to build a residential building with 48 units behind the hotel.

The proposed building, located at 94 East Main Street, would be between the Caffé Gelato restaurant and old Finn McCool’s, and accommodate 92 to 96 East Main.

In March 2019, the proposal was debated extensively by the Newarks Historic Community due to Lang’s plans to demolish the Green Mansion, which became a registered historic landmark in 1983. Residents also criticized the size of the building and questioned the need for another hotel in the area.

“It was controversial because of the argument [was] by some of the public building a hotel on Main Street [was]’Don’t we have enough hotels? Who will stay there? ‘and so on, ”said Jerry Clifton, Newark Mayor. “[But] We heard a lot about it: “It would be nice to have a hotel in the middle of the city center. University visitors who are here on business would give them accommodation, “especially if it is upscale.”

The city council approved the plans during a seven-hour session in March 2019, and Lang began construction on the area, although work on the site was suspended in May 2020 due to the pandemic. By then, Lang had successfully demolished Abbott’s shoe repair building and the rear of the Green Mansion, leaving the facade behind.

“The compromise is what you really see standing there,” said Clifton, referring to what is currently left of the mansion. “The exterior of the Green Mansion will remain intact, [but] The fact is, I was inside [it] When it was in operation and the floors were crooked, it was in poor condition. I think this compromise is a good thing. It speaks for the historical nature and still enables the renovation of a property. ”

What is left of the Green Villa should flow into the final project. Travis McDermott, councilor for District 6, under whose scope the hotel would come, spoke of security and instability concerns, noting that the structure was rated “solid”.

“I’ve asked the city to send engineers to make sure the structure is stable as the development plan goes through the process,” McDermott explained in an email. “There was some concern that due to the demolition … this could have created some instability. The engineers found that the structure as it sits now is solid. ”

McDermott also shared what he commonly heard from concerned Newark residents.

“Most of the concerns I’ve heard about the project are about the size of the building and the potential for increased congestion on Main Street, and I share those concerns,” said McDermott. “I need to hear what the city and the developer have to say about the potential traffic impact to see if the benefits outweigh the increased vehicle traffic that would certainly come with the hotel.”

Locke said the COVID-19 pandemic caused Lang to redesign its original proposal after construction was halted in May 2020.

“These changes were made because of the economic impact of the COVID pandemic on the hospitality industry and commercial office market,” Locke said. “With these changes, we believe we have a better designed project that now has more space and allows us to restore the Green Mansion to its former glory.”

Clifton also referred to the changes to the proposal related to the pandemic, stressing that banks were more reluctant to lend for certain projects due to the economic impact of COVID-19.

“Tragically, the pandemic called for, and when the pandemic hit, banks were demanding more buy-ins and questioning the scale of certain projects …” Clifton said. “The most likely course of action is mixed use, where you have apartments and a hotel that takes up less space, and that is exactly it [Lang is] mention. “

Clifton said he understood the community’s “fear” in response to a proposal for a larger building. However, he said that Lang worked well with the city and that there would be no hotel restaurant to compete with the other local restaurants on Main Street. He also pointed to Newark’s general need for more off-campus dormitories, an issue that Lang’s proposed residential building could partially address.

“People [are] say, ‘Well, we have so many apartments; Why do we all need apartments? “The university has cut well over 2,000 beds on campus, and with no plans to replace them, and with the exception of the last year or so, the number of enrollments has been rising,” said Clifton.

Clifton also said he had feedback from the students’ parents looking for “newer and safer” places for their children to live. Some students said they would prefer to live as close to campus as possible, which leads them to look especially downtown.

“I had a landlord who owns individual houses who said, ‘How do you expect me to compete? All you do is approve all of these granite countertop homes. “And of course my answer to that is,” Hey, it’s America, you can do the same, “said Clifton. “The game has changed, and none of us here have changed it. The desire for better places in the student body has changed that. ”

In response to general concerns from the community that the seven-story building might be a “disruption” to Main Street or “out of scale” due to its height, Clifton stated that Newark had merely seen a “paradigm shift” in locating residents. Referring to the common “requests” he’d heard over the years, such as requests for a location with security and sprinkler systems that would be fire-proof and harder to get to, he said the students wanted nice amenities and “something what they can be “want to be proud of.”

“If you look, other cities are not the same [as they used to look]and part of the reason is the paradigm shift … in what apartment dwellers want in an apartment, ”said Clifton.

Clifton, adapting to the shift in Newark, applied the vibrancy of the city to the younger population.

“I can point to several cities in Delaware that don’t have the vibrancy that we have, and the university brings that vibrancy to the city,” Clifton said. “People complain about the university, but Newark’s main role is education. Add to this a younger population who adds some liveliness to the church, and this is just the next manifestation to keep that liveliness in Newark. ”

Locke described one of the greatest benefits of the proposed hotel as “a significant economic benefit” for businesses in and around downtown Newark.

“It will bring people who may not have stayed in our downtown area to this area to shop and dine in the fantastic stores on Main Street,” Locke said. “The building … will bring the historic Green Mansion back to life by offering conference rooms and four beautiful hotel suites for guests to use.”

Locke also expressed hope that the hotel would provide “employment opportunities” for students in the hospitality industry, one of the university’s top majors.

The Lang proposal also includes plans for a parking garage that can also be used by the public. According to Clifton, around 100 parking spaces will likely be reserved for the newer plan, which the City of Newark will control directly.

“The parking garage will give us the flexibility to make these parking spaces available to the public when hotel guests don’t need them,” said Locke. “This will enable simpler and improved parking alternatives for those looking to support downtown businesses.”

Locke also said that the general reduction in building size will allow Lang to connect two municipal lots with an access behind the building, making both lots more user-friendly for the community.

Locke said the project was “well received” by the city’s planning committee, which unanimously voted to move the project forward.

The city council will meet today to finalize the project.