NEWARK, NJ - For the group of around forty people gathered in the basement of Abyssinian Baptist Church to discuss the future of an iconic Newark landmark, a quote from the Bible posted on the wall said it best - it's time to build.
"We believe in the potential of this project," said Carmelo Garcia, deputy mayor and director of economic and housing development, regarding a plan to restore the vacant Krueger-Scott Mansion, a palatial Victorian-era house built at the corner of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Court Street, after decades of dormancy. "We want to do something groundbreaking and transformative that will catalyze this area."
The Friday night community meeting was held to answer questions about the approximately $30 million restoration project, which is meant to be a mix of living space and work space.
Avi Telyas of Seaview Development Corporation, the developer who is partnering with the city on the project, noted that 66 apartments, both market rate and affordable housing, will be built on the back of the property, along with 16 workshops for small entrepreneurs all inside a seven-story building.
Telyas tried to allay concerns about the future of a nearly one-acre urban farm established by the Greater Newark Conservancy that is already on the property, saying that he hopes to work with the non-profit organization to move the farm to a greenhouse on the site.
"We want a community design to help you kickstart your business," Telyas said, adding that he hopes that the project will break ground later this year, with completion time approximately 14 months.
The mansion, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was built in 1888 on what was then known as High Street by German beer baron Gottfried Krueger at a time when Newark was renowned for its production of lagers and ales. Krueger built the mansion in response to the construction of rival brewer John Ballantine's opulent home downtown, now part of the Newark Museum.
It was purchased by local entrepreneur Louise Scott-Rountree in 1958, who used the site to run a cosmetology college and other businesses and that became a de facto community hub in the Central Ward.
For Rev. Louise Scott-Rountree, her mother's namesake, the project brings back memories of the house she lived in more than 20 years, but also opens a window to the future.
"My mother would love this, but what's more important is what's going to be there," Scott-Rountree said. "We have to be mindful that whatever we do in the community has to benefit the community. Then you have to know the community that you're in. It's not suburbia."
Part of Newark's cultural memory is of a time when Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard was named High Street, and when High Street was called Millionaires' Row. For one resident, the next projected wave of redevelopment that the project represents, another sign of a rapidly changing Newark, was met not with nervous trepidation but with raised expectations.
"I remember Newark when we had a middle class and an upper-middle class. That's what has to come back." said Alif Muhammad, 65, a Central Ward resident. "I want to see market-rate apartments in the area, because I remember how beautiful it was. So I don't have a problem."
Another resident addressed the idea of increasing socioeconomic mobility in Newark.
"My impression of this project is very different than a lot of projects that you see. Even if you go over a few blocks, they're building housing with plans to have a percentage to be for low or moderate income. But there is no plan to help people get to the place where they can even afford low or moderate income," said Pastor Linda Ellerbe of Israel Memorial A.M.E. Church. "This is an opportunity for people to have a space to work and to live, but to also have the support to be successful."