Lincoln Hotel Comes Down

Monday, 8 October 2007

The ??New York Times?? reports to day on the demolition of the Lincoln Hotel: “Newark Loses Unwanted Landmark as Lincoln Motel Goes”:http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/08/nyregion/08newark.html. And a great sigh of relief rolls across the neighborhood. We actually looked at an apartment in the James Street Historic District. The site was nearly ideal: easy commute options to both Broad Street and Penn Stations; near NJPAC, the Library and the Museum; a small park nearby, and a community of people who care about Newark.

We ultimately declined, though, because we just couldn’t figure out where to shop for food. There are few commercial prospects within walking distance of James Street other than a few bars. I actually spoke to another James Street resident and asked how they get their shopping done — they, like “many, many other Newarkers”:http://dailynewarker.com/2007/05/18/week-in-review-weequahic-tour-backing-obama-bringing-retail-downtown-and-a-greener-greater-newark/ go out of town to get what they need.

The demolition of the Lincoln Hotel — and, hopefully soon, the Westinghouse factory across from Broad Street Station, should be a huge boon to an area with shocking underuse and disinvestment.

St. Louis has its swooping arch, San Francisco its bright red bridge and New York that copper-clad lady who stands sentinel in the harbor.

Redevelopment efforts around Broad Street Station include the former Westinghouse factory, at rear; apartments may replace it.

Since the 1970s, the northern gateway to this city has been graced by a giant, back-lighted profile of Abraham Lincoln, or at least a rough approximation of the 16th president, imprinted onto plastic.

But unlike the landmarks gracing entryways to other great American cities, the yellow sign over Broad Street honoring President Lincoln advertised an establishment best known as a hot-sheet motel and an incubator for prodigious amounts of crime.

“A blemished, rat-infested drug-haven eyesore,” is how Marc E. Berson, a local real estate developer, described the building, which sits next to Bears and Eagles Riverfront Stadium, where the minor-league baseball team of which he is a co-owner, the Newark Bears, plays to thin crowds.

The motel, which hugs Interstate 280 and the train tracks that connect New York to a strand of leafy suburbs, also faces New Jersey Transit’s Broad Street Station and the terminus of a new light rail line that wends through downtown Newark.

On Wednesday, Mr. Berson joined a group of elected officials and neighborhood residents to bid adieu to the Lincoln Motel. Following a rather unflattering eulogy, Mayor Cory A. Booker climbed into the cab of a giant excavating machine and, after a few misses, ripped a crowd-pleasing gash into the motel’s ashy-white brick facade with the machine’s jaws.

“One small blow for man, one giant blow for Newark,” the mayor said as a plume of dust drifted toward the Passaic River behind him.

Although there are promising signs of revival on the blocks south and west of Broad Street, it remains to be seen whether the demolition of the Lincoln Motel will spark the long-awaited resurgence that officials have been promising for generations. In the decade since city and county officials poured $30 million into the construction of Riverfront Stadium, the sports bars and restaurants conjured up in promotional material and architectural mockups never arrived to replace the parking lots and adult theaters that are there now.

In 2000, Miles Berger, the Lincoln Motel’s longtime owner, closed it for good and announced grand development plans for the site. Since then, the only activity at the moldering motel involved junkies and prostitutes who made use of its rooms. This time, however, things may be different.

The Tucker Development Corporation of Chicago, a builder of shopping centers, has said it is planning a mixed-use project on the four-acre site. Rutgers University is building a new $83 million home for its business school one block away. And the Westinghouse factory, an asbestos-drenched beauty that looms over the Broad Street train station, is undergoing decontamination. In its place, city planners envision a high-rise offering market-rate apartments that would appeal to those working in New York, a mere 20-minute train ride away.

The quad, as the area is sometimes called, is also a brief stroll from the Newark Museum, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, the Newark Library and Washington Park, a gracious 18th-century greensward that adjoins a stretch of restored brownstones known as the James Street Commons Historic District.