Tuesday, September 5, 2017

What is Coming to the Site of Newark's RKO Proctor's Theater?

NEWARK, N.J.: A new development appears to be planned for a part of the site of a historic Newark theater, but over a year after it was first proposed, very few details have been made public.

The RKO Proctor’s Palace Theater building was built in 1915 at 114-116 Market Street, in the heart of Downtown Newark. Records from the National Park Service (NPS) show that in its heyday, the historic structure, which was designed by prominent theater architect William E. Lehman, was a massive ‘piggyback theater’ complex with two auditoriums. The upper rooftop theater included 1,400 seats, while the lower auditorium featured 2,000 seats, according to the NPS documents, which add that movie screenings and Essex County College programming were later held inside.

Today, the eight-story theater building is divided into two properties. The front property, which faces Market Street and is owned by Manhattan-based 114 Market, LLC, appears largely vacant with the exception of the Top 2000 clothing store. The rear property, which had been owned by the City of Newark, has been not been utilized in recent years. Photos posted by Cinema Treasures, After the Final Curtain, and The Forgotten Past of New Jersey show that the interior of the building has not been maintained.

Last July, Essex County Place broke that news that the Newark Municipal Council voted to sell the City-owned rear portion of the tract for the negotiated price of just $5,000 to a company called Davidson, Abraham and Associates, LLC to “develop a mixed-use residential/commercial building.” This was despite the fact that the centrally located property had an appraised value of $1.5863 million. Remediation and demolition at the property would be required for the new project, and City records show that the costs of both were expected to exceed $2 million.

Following a tip from a reader, we have once again been investigating what will be coming to the property. Davidson, Abraham and Associates was incorporated in October 2015, according to the New Jersey Division of Revenue and Enterprise Services, but the exact address of the property in Englewood, Bergen County that is listed in the resolution, 295 Hudson Avenue, does not exist. Attempts to contact the homeowner of a very similar address, 295 West Hudson Avenue, by phone, were unsuccessful, and City officials have revealed very little about the proposed development. 

Newark Municipal Council President Mildred Crump stated last month that she did not know what would be constructed at the property and neither did Newark Community Economic Development Corporation President and Chief Executive Officer Aisha Glover. 

When asked about the low sale price of the property, Newark’s Deputy Mayor for Economic and Housing Development, Baye Adofo-Wilson, told us that “there’s a substantial amount of demolition that needs to be done on that project and oftentimes, the City gives developers credits if the demolition and/or the environmental issue is more than the project.” Regarding the number of units and the size of the proposed project, Adofo-Wilson stated that the goal of the development is for it to be mixed-use, but said that “I think there’s some additional thinking they had for the site.” 

Since the property is located within the Four Corners Historic District, in order for the structure to be demolished, the Newark Landmarks and Historic Preservation Commission must grant approval following a public hearing. The proposal also requires several other clearances, including approval from the Newark Central Planning Board. Once an application is filed, we will likely know more about what could potentially replace this Newark landmark.

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-This article originally appeared on Jersey Digs-