Stadium developer reveals design for vast mixed-use project

NEWARK -- The site now occupied by Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium will be a 24/7 community of apartments, office, retail and entertainment spaces comprised of three "blocks" designed by separate architects and surrounding a 1.5-acre courtyard, according to the developer.

"It's going to be amazing," said Ben Korman, founder and CEO of Manhattan-based Lotus Equity Group, which will tear down the stadium and build the 2.3-million-square-foot mixed-use project.

Lotus closed on a deal in November to purchase the former home of the defunct Newark Bears minor league baseball team from Essex County for $23.5 million.

The Bears folded in 2014, 15 years after the stadium was built at a cost of $34 million using public financing, leaving Essex taxpayers on the hook for $2 million a year in debt payments.

Too many seats were empty even during Bears home games, and the red brick stadium at the corner of Orange and Broad Streets has been largely vacant ever since, other than the occasional NJIT, Rutgers-Newark, or high school baseball game.

The city declared the 8-acre stadium site as an area in need of redevelopment, and designated Lotus as the developer for the job.

In a recent interview with NJ Advance Media, Korman said he hoped to have submitted final plans to the city and begun work by the end of 2018, with a roughly 3-year construction period that would mean residents and businesses could begin moving in sometime around the winter of 2021-22. Korman said he did not have a cost estimate for the project.

Korman said Lotus had hired three renowned architectural firms to design distinct "blocks" of the complex: PAU, a firm headed by Vishaan Chakrabarti and recognized for its work project including the High Line, Lower Manhattan after 9/11, and the proposed new Pennsylvania Station; Michael Green Architecture, or MGA, known for its "mass timber" construction; and Ten Arquitectos, the New York and Mexico City-based team of architect Enrique Norten. A fourth firm, Minno & Wasko Architects and Planners is the architect of record, a veteran of city and state projects with offices in Newark.

Korman said the project will include 1,400 apartments.

Korman said the project would also include a 400,000-square-foot office tower marketed to technology firms, taking advantage of the city's growing reputation as a tech hub. Korman is also a partner in C&K Properties, which 11 years ago acquired 2 Gateway Center, the first building to contract with the city's Newark Fiber public-private venture launched last year to provide internet access to its tenants.

In some ways, Korman said the stadium project is a reaction to the Gateway office complex, which was built amid a climate of anxiety in the aftermath of Newark's 1967 violence and has been criticized as insular and uninviting to anyone but the people who work there.

By contrast, Korman said, the new project would invite the city in, with its large, open courtyard --  "the piazza," he called it -- accommodating open air markets, galleries and even film screenings, all open to the general public.

"These are different times," Korman said.

The complex will also include 120,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space, mainly intended for small or medium-sized shops and restaurants. And there will be an entertainment venue that Korman said would be comparable to Brooklyn Bowl, the 600-capacity concert hall and bowling ally in that borough's Williamsburg section.

Those kinds of uses, Korman said, will encourage pedestrian traffic from inside and outside of the complex. And, he said, the complex will also generate street life along McCarter Highway on its northern edge, across from the Passaic River, an area now bereft of almost any commercial activity, pedestrian-oriented or otherwise.

"The thought was also that, not only should it be housing for the city of Newark, but it should also also have commercial activity on the site," Korman said. "It should be an asset that should be embraced by the people that live in Newark and it should be embraced by the people who love Newark and work in it."

He said residents and workers at the stadium project would be likely to take advantage of downtown Newark's budding restaurant district around Halsey Street, as well as downtown's new Whole Foods supermarket and cultural institutions including the Newark Museum, NJPAC and Prudential Center arena.

Many would commute via NJ Transit's Broad Street Station accessible from the complex not by an elevated walkway, but by crossing Broad Street. For those who drive, 2,000 parking spaces would be created in decks at the base of the complex's buildings.

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