The importance of a modern city is often measured by the height of its skyscrapers. It is understandable that lawyer Calvin Souder wants to reshape Newark’s skyline. It is his hometown, a city that’s been downtrodden for decades.
In the past few years, Souder has been the legal representation behind Newark’s tallest proposed buildings — Halo, the Arc Tower, and the upcoming IDT redevelopment — and he seems to be on a crusade to bring back the city’s pre-riot glory days through real estate alone.
However, his biggest obstacle has been with preservationists, who are on their own quest to save what remains of Newark’s historic architecture. A city without its history is a place without an identity, they argue.
This battle between the past and the present came to blows again last week, when developer, KS Group, came before the Historic Preservation Commission to present plans for what is being called the Newark Summit Tower in the Four Corners Historic District.
The plot should be familiar to Jersey Digs readers as it entails the demolition of two historic buildings and replacing them with a whirling glass skyscraper. At 46 stories tall, Newark Summit Tower would eclipse the neighborhood’s tallest structure, the National Newark Building, built in 1930.
Souder believes that the current zeitgeist craves taller buildings. The Four Corners, he argued at last week’s Landmarks Commission meeting, was historically home to the city’s tallest buildings, including the 16-story-tall Firemen’s Insurance Building, which was the tallest building in the state when it was completed.
The nearby 34-story Lefcourt building at 1180 Raymond and the 35-story National Newark Building were both at one time the tallest buildings in the city, though the latter structure will be dethroned upon completion of the Halo building, designed by the same architecture firm.
“There was an intention at the earliest of days for downtown Newark to be taller,” Souder said. “The city has gone back to saying we want to be taller.”
The Newark Summit Tower is a beautiful building — with elegant arches and curves that architect Marat Mutlu mastered under the tutelage of Zaha Hadid. But the commission argued that the building’s height doesn’t complement the landmarks that surround it – it thumbs its nose at them.
Susana Holguin-Veras, co-chair of the HPC, declared Mutlu’s design “visually, historically, contextually too tall,” a sentiment that was echoed by her colleagues, Nicaury Miller and co-chair Richard Partyka.
“There is one distinct difference in this – this is in a historic district and there are precise ordinances and guidelines we’re following,” Partyka said. “When they built those buildings, believe it or not, there were no historic districts in Newark.”
As a peace offering, Holguin-Veras – before the commission unanimously approved the project – introduced the condition that the architect lower the height of the Summit Tower to the height of the National Newark Building, a difference of 30 feet. Not much in skyscraper terms. “We could say bring it all the way down to the same street level,” she said. “We’re compromising by saying, match the tallest building nearby.”
“It’s not to block new development,” she continued. “It’s just to make sure that what does come in doesn’t damage what is already there and protected.”
For those who follow real estate in Newark, this application might evoke a feeling of déjà vu. The developer has assembled the same lawyer-architect team used for the 45-story Arc Tower, which was approved by the Central Planning Board in February. Both projects required the demolition of historic buildings — which is an alarmingly regular occurrence in the city, Jersey Digs reported — and in both cases the architect designed buildings that preservationists deemed too tall for its location.
In the case of the Arc Tower, the LHPC didn’t approve the demolition, which was required for it to advance, but Souder and Mutlu still made an end run around the commission by appearing before the Central Planning Board in February. It will be interesting to see if Souder tries a similar maneuver in the case of Newark Summit Tower to avoid the height restriction.
Earlier this year, the KS Group acquired a massive lot near City Hall at 315 Mulberry Street, an area of the city that is outside of the commission’s purview. Newarkers are waiting to see if Mutlu will be hired and what structure he will dream up when it is no longer constrained by historical context.