Plans for a seven-story hotel on Newark’s Main Street are moving forward. The development will demolish part of a building on the National Register of Historic Places.
Newark City Council approved controversial plans for a seven-story Hyatt hotel by Lang Development Group in the middle of E. Main St. last week. The project will include commercial and office space along with a parking garage.
Opponents of the project include historic preservationists, who note it involves the partial demolition of a nineteenth-century building on the National Register of Historic Places known as the “Green Mansion.” The project will preserve and incorporate the building’s front facade and about sixty percent of its side walls, according to Lang Development Group’s Chris Locke.
“We understand the historical significance of the Green Mansion to Main Street, so we wanted to keep as much as we can,” said Locke. “And that’s what we’ve done.”
But architectural historian with the University of Delaware Michael Emmons is not impressed. “Most people don’t consider it true historic preservation just to preserve some front face of the building, which is just kind of a cosmetic gesture, almost,” he said.
The Green Mansion was built in 1882. Emmons says the most special part of the Italianate-style house is its front facade, which is faced with green serpentine stone.
“There was like a vein of this particular green stone running through southeastern pennsylvania,” he said. “So there were more of these buildings up in Chester County up in Pennsylvania, but not a ton of them were built in Delaware.”
Emmons says several historic preservationists he is in contact with determined that the Green Mansion is one of likely six or seven surviving buildings in Delaware made with serpentine.
According to a 2018 report by University of Delaware student Jamie Magee, the Green Mansion was built as a duplex residence. Over the years it housed a hat shop, a photography studio and most recently a dentist office. Its residential units have often been rented by students, according to Magee.
The Green Mansion’s inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places does not offer it protection against private development.
The building is among roughly thirty historic properties identified in Newark’s city code that require additional review for destruction of the exterior facade. The code defines ‘facade’ as “the architectural style, design, and general composition of the exterior of a structure that can be seen readily from a street, sidewalk, or way opened to the public.”
Emmons says the hotel project should have triggered this review. “If destroying a huge percentage of one of the most historic buildings that’s on this list that’s called out for special review, if that doesn’t trigger a review, what will?”
Emmons notes the only protections in place for most historic buildings are at the local government level.
Locke of Lang Development Group says the hotel project will create more than 200 construction jobs over 15 to 17 months and roughly 30 full-time jobs at the Hyatt.
“We’re going to be able now to attract visitors to stay on Main St., dine on Main St. and shop on Main St., which I think will be a phenomenal experience for all the businesses,” said Locke.
The development project is expected to begin construction late this summer and finish by fall 2020. According to Locke, Lang still needs to get the building permit from the city.
Several Newark City Council members did not respond to requests for interviews.