The earth beneath what was once 850 Broad St. was turned before an estimated audience of 100 here at the northeast corner of Broad and Lafayette streets at 12:03 and 12:07 p.m. March 30.
Mayor Cory A. Booker, Tucker Development Corporation namesake Richard Tucker, Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Stefan Pryor and 10 other dignitaries first turned shovels in what had recently been a 52-space parking lot. They then made way for Abdul Muhammad of Laborers Union No. 872 and his Sovell of North Branch Caterpillar excavator to scoop out a bucket full of New Jersey clay.
The private and public partners who gathered are hoping that up to 175 construction jobs will soon work on the corner lot. They are to build a 155,000-square foot, 150 bed Marriott hotel over the coming year.
Another 50 to 75 permanent jobs are to subsequently enter The Courtyard by Marriott Downtown Newark and its 15,000 square feet of ground floor retail space in 2012. They are to cater to tourists, business and casual renters who may well attend the Prudential Center next door among other attractions and commercial establishments in around downtown.
Both Booker and Pryor said at the groundbreaking that Marriott International, Inc., Tucker and other partners involved in the new hotel have agreed to a First Source Newark hiring agreement. Newark residents are to have first dibs on construction or permanent jobs.
Theodore "Ted" Green, as the city's workforce compliance officer, said he is going to see that Newarkers will get employers' first opportunities.
"My job is to make sure there's a level playing field," said Green, who doubles as East Orange Second Ward Councilman. "I go over the contracts and call the parties involved."
Booker added that the hotel building will be an all-union project. The mayor, during the groundbreaking ceremony, called out to Essex County Building Trades Council President Marty Schwartz.
There were dozens of shout-outs and credit-sharing during the 40-minute ceremony, which explained why there seemed to be four times as many people on the lot as there were 25 chairs under the temporary tent.
The Courtyard by Marriott Downtown Newark is the first new hotel in the city's business district in 40 years. The Gateway Hilton, across Raymond Plaza West from Newark Penn Station, opened as the Downtowner Inn in the early 1970s.
New Jersey's largest city has had inns, hotels and motels since Colonial times. A Newark Public Library clipping file reveals several such lodging providers over the centuries, most notably the Robert Treat Hotel, which opened on Park Place in 1916.
Most of the recent hotel development, however, has been around Newark Liberty International Airport. The three downtown exceptions are the Holiday Inn/Lincoln Motel, the Villager Inn at Halsey and New streets and a Comfort Inn, built in 2008, on Route 21 McCarter Highway and Gouverneur Street.
The inn at Halsey and New streets is actually a revived Victoria-era hotel that reopened in 2006. The Holiday Inn across from Broad Street Station was better known as The Lincoln Motel before it was torn down in the 2000s. Landlord Louis Berger Group, which had wanted to build a residential/retail Liberty tower, has the 3.45-acre lot up for sale.
St. Benedict's Prep Headmaster Fr. Patrick Leahy was among those in the audience who have memories of the Renaissance Mall that had stood on the corner lot. The unfinished mall, which was to use the Central of New Jersey Railroad terminal's train shed, was bulldozed in the late 1990s.
Neither Tonia Smith or John Adesso, owner and manager of Brick City Coffee Company next door on Lafayette Street did not mind trading seven parking spaces for potential Marriott customers.
"We welcome more customers," said Smith. "We've been open for two years and Uber Burger (next door) six months. We found other parking spaces."