Museum Parc, a mixed-use project to create a campus around The Newark Museum of Art, as depicted in this rendering, will include 250 new apartments and commercial space, a 4,000-square-foot art and program gallery, new outdoor amenities, a more visible sculpture garden and renovations for the education wing. — Courtesy: Newark Museum/L+M Development Partners
By Joshua Burd
Linda Harrison recalls the construction cranes that filled Newark’s skyline when she joined the Newark Museum in 2018. “Something is happening in this city,” she told herself, seeing firsthand the activity that she had only read about from her previous post in San Francisco.
That made it all the more important to move quickly on a plan that would see the cultural institution not only participate in that momentum, but secure its long-term future.
“The Newark Museum is 112 years old and a little bit set in its ways,” said Harrison, the CEO and director of what’s now known as the Newark Museum of Art. “So we had to really open the door … and look outward, look externally.”
She added: “If we’re going to be a financially stable and sustainable cultural organization, then we had to look at new models, different multiples of revenue.”
The belief has given way to a recently announced, $85 million plan to expand and revamp the museum, one that will also bring 250 apartments and retail and dining space to the campus at Washington Street and Central Avenue. And it’s among several projects in which new development or investment is poised to infuse one of Newark’s cultural anchors, while helping to advance economic growth in and around the downtown.
The proposals, each unveiled within the past year, call for a combined investment of around $285 million.
“This is purely a case of ‘more is more,’ ” said Tim Lizura, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s senior vice president for real estate and capital projects, during a March 2 program hosted by the Newark Regional Business Partnership. “And I think, as we dedicate this arts district and we publicize it to make sure everybody knows what it is, it’s just going to be the crown jewel.”
Harrison and Lizura spoke alongside Taneshia Nash Laird, CEO and president of Newark Symphony Hall, in a panel discussion moderated by Sam Chapin, a senior director with L+M Development Partners. They detailed their projects to a crowd of Newark real estate and business leaders gathered inside NJPAC’s ground-floor restaurant, part of a venue that was designed and developed to be a catalyst for economic development.
To that end, Lizura pointed to the 22-story, 245-unit apartment building known as One Theater Square, which opened across the street in 2018, as well as the 7.3 acres of undeveloped land around the 25-year-old facility. A portion of that property is now slated to house 350 apartments, a food hall and a new family arts and education center, under a $150 million project unveiled last summer in partnership with L+M.
The “most significant” element of the plan will be extending Mulberry Street through what is currently a parking lot on the east side of the venue, Lizura said, connecting it to Rector Street and potentially farther north. That would create a public street around NJPAC’s eastern face, serving multiple purposes in the process.
“A number of things happen,” Lizura said. “One is we have the ability to parcelize our development and create a walkable and exciting community. It also means that what today is our back-of-house space needs to be now public-facing space, and that’s interesting.
“It also gives us the opportunity to think about a development strategy that’s bite-size and transactional. Because it’s one thing to put plans on paper. It’s another thing to be able to deliver on that.”
Cultural venues are not always designed with such sweeping economic development goals in mind, but can still serve as a focal point that benefits both the venue and the blocks around it. Harrison said the $85 million Newark Museum project will put the facility on sounder financial footing while creating “a museum of the community,” in part by opening the building’s walls and making it more inviting to the public. Central to that is a redesigned and reconfigured Alice Ransom Dreyfuss Sculpture Garden that would be more accessible, while featuring a beer garden or other dining options that have broad appeal beyond the arts community.
L+M is also a partner in the project, known as Museum Parc, with additional plans calling 250 apartments and townhomes, retail and dining space, a 4,000-square-foot art and program gallery and renovations for the education wing. The housing will include loft-style units to ensure that artists remain in the city, Harrison said, but residents throughout the buildings will be able to step outside “and literally art surrounds them.”
“And the key piece of this is that we want people to feel comfortable that they can walk in this cultural hub, that it is safe to walk downtown, that it is safe walk from the museum to NJPAC to Symphony Hall and all of the art experiences — or just casually having a coffee,” she said. “We want people to experience this because this is where cultural hubs can really impact a city’s vibrancy and its economic growth.”
Panelists at the NRBP event spoke of a “cultural triangle” connecting NJPAC, the Newark Museum and Symphony Hall, whose leaders have unveiled a five-year, $50 million upgrade of the historic performance venue. The plan centers on a sweeping exterior renovation to create a new façade, marquee and plaza meant to activate a stretch of Broad Street, along with improvements to as much as 50,000 square feet of tenant space and the addition of street-level restaurants.
Nash Laird, who wants to see the project completed in time for Symphony Hall’s centennial in 2025, said the surrounding Lincoln Park neighborhood has already seen an infusion of new development. The renovation of NSH will not only add to that resurgence, but provide further opportunities to train, employ and empower local residents.
Notably, the project would create 500 construction jobs and contracting opportunities for 50 small businesses, she said.
“I have no doubt that the $50 million renovation is going to happen,” Nash Laird said. “Just during the pandemic, we’ve raised $8.5 million. What I do want to make sure happens is that local people are participants in our success.”
Harrison noted that the cultural district includes Newark’s academic institutions and businesses, both large and small, while Lizura cited the importance of simply having people on the street. That means getting workers back to the office as well as leasing up the new apartments that are slated for the downtown. In the case of NJPAC, that could include more than 2,000 people living on the adjacent properties and in neighboring buildings.
“It really is going to create a community that is a 24/7 environment,” Lizura said, “and that is just the holy grail of what we want this city to be.”