Ever since the IDT Corporation abandoned its longstanding headquarters in downtown Newark last year, the 20-story tower together with the six-acre lot behind it, became one of the most underutilized properties in the city.
The new owner, Sinai Equity Group, will finally reveal its vision for the IDT Building redevelopment to the Central Planning Board on Aug. 21 to convert the old IDT building into 254 apartments while constructing four 40-story residential towers — designed by Fort Lee firm Architectura — where the parking garage is located.
The land itself is significant as it sits on the Atlantic Street light rail stop, near important city landmarks like Tubman Square, Broad Street Station, and the riverfront. However, criticisms of its design have emerged that the four new towers to be built on the triangular lot behind the IDT building are not pedestrian-friendly.
“The superblock design of the project threatens to be an insular entity that separates residents from the city and lacks a relationship to its surroundings,” the Planning Board’s city’s staff report states.
The superblock is a sensitive issue in Newark, as it is often associated with post-riot architecture when investment in the city was predicated on designs based around commuters that ignored — or even feared — the city around it.
Historian Myles Zhang compares the proposed IDT redevelopment to the Gateway Center, which was built near Penn Station in the 1970s-1980s. Comprising four commercial towers, the network of skywalks, indoor food court, and connected parking garages allows workers to clock in and out without ever stepping foot on a city sidewalk.
Mayor Ras Baraka once described the negative impact the Gateway Center’s design had on the surrounding community to the Star-Ledger.
“After the Newark rebellion,” said Baraka, referring to what some call the Newark riots, “people wanted to stay, but they didn’t want to be in the city. They were scared of the city. They didn’t want to invest in Newark. They didn’t want to walk the streets, so they built this kind of tower, where they could hang out, take the train, do everything they needed to do, whether it was a hotel, haircut, eat, and never come to the ground.”
Zhang believes building another “self-contained city within a city” at the IDT Building site will repeat history’s mistakes. “Atlantic Street is currently a dead street, largely empty and underutilized,” Zhang said. “This project includes both sides of Atlantic Street, and the developer owns buildings on both sides of the street. The proposal should therefore take full advantage to activate this street as public space, as public pedestrian plaza, and as transit oriented development with the light rail.”
Built in 1957, the modernist IDT Building at 516 Broad Street is one of the six buildings that have served as Mutual Benefit Life’s headquarters during its time in Newark. It became infamous for its near-windowless wall of concrete facing the Manhattan skyline to the east. In the building’s conversion the lack of transparency will be remedied with the addition of a number of windows.
Sinai Equity Group is the third major developer to gain approvals to build along Newark’s riverfront. The others include the CitiSquare project and Boraie’s glass tower at 970 McCarter Highway, though neither of these have broken ground yet.
At the CitiSquare site, development was held off by protests from local labor union 32BJ SEIU over prevailing wages. However, a spokesperson for the City of Newark told Jersey Digs that the dispute has been resolved.
These two projects, combined with the redeveloped IDT site, could bring nearly 7,000 residential units to Newark’s riverfront. NJPAC also intends to redevelop the six-acre site along the Passaic River, bringing townhomes and mixed-use buildings, but the proposal hasn’t been approved by the Central Planning Board yet.