Brandon Holveck Via Delaware News Journal
The developer behind a controversial hotel project on Newark's Main Street is asking the city to approve a revised plan that would reduce the size of the hotel and add six stories of apartments.
Jeff Lang of Lang Development said the changes are in response to shifting market conditions as a result of the pandemic. The previously approved plan included 20,000 square feet of office space, a larger hotel with more amenities and an above-ground ivy-covered parking garage.
"We love the original design, we love the original scope, but pretty much the office market fell apart, and obviously we have a hotel, which many of us know that not many people are traveling to now," Lang told the Newark planning commission Tuesday night.
At 96 E. Main St., the hotel site is across from the Academy Street intersection at the center of Main Street, the central business hub of downtown Newark and the University of Delaware campus.
The original proposal, approved by Newark City Council in March 2019, stoked debate between residents who felt the project was out of touch with the town's character and others who saw it as an opportunity to boost downtown business.
After clearing the site in fall 2019, with the exception of the facade of the century-old Green Mansion, which will be incorporated into the hotel project, Lang stopped construction work in May.
"A hotel is really not a viable business opportunity in the financing industry," Lang said. "So what we decided to do is start to look at options for the redesign of this property knowing we had a commitment to build a hotel."
The new proposal reduces the size of the seven-story Hyatt Place hotel from 144 rooms to 104 rooms and does away with a fourth-floor pool and deck and 20,000 square feet of office space.
Behind the hotel, Lang added a second seven-story building that will feature 48 two-bedroom apartments in six stories above ground-floor parking.
A large ivy-covered parking garage attached to the back of the hotel has also been nixed. The plan calls for street-level parking between the buildings and underground parking that will be accessed from Main Street and open to the public when space is available.
Lang described the look of the project as "straight forward" and "clean." The hotel in the new proposal is set back from the three-story Green Mansion and rises straight up, doing away with the "wedding cake" design of the original building.
The apartment building follows the same brick and light-colored pattern of the hotel. Lang said it was an intentional choice in case his group in the future wants to convert the building to a different use such as condominiums or an expansion of the hotel.
Under the most recent proposal, the Green Mansion will have a meeting space on its first floor and suites in its upper floors.
It was built in 1882 as a home and later served as a millinery shop. A nominating form written in 1980 for the National Historic Register said the building is distinct for its "bay green granite block facade" and "combination of unusual building materials and Victorian ornamental elements."
From 1942 to 2017, the Cox family operated a dental practice out of the Green Mansion with apartments on the upper floors.
Lang said the project redesign was necessary to secure financing, given the upheaval in the hospitality and office businesses. Lang Development did not say whether the apartments would be targeted at students, citing federal law that mandates housing be available to anyone who is interested.
According to the Delaware Hotel and Lodging Association, occupancy rates in Delaware were down more than 10% compared with previous years in the early months of the pandemic.
New Castle County experienced a steep dip. In October, the countywide occupancy rate was down about 20% from 2019.
According to Colliers International, office vacancy in New Castle County increased from about 12% at the end of 2018 to 15% at the end of 2020.
The Newark planning commission recommended approval of the updated plan, which requires a parking waiver, by a vote of 5-0 Tuesday night.
It will now go to the City Council next month for final approval.