If you hang out in Newark long enough, you are bound to run into enthusiastic city advocate Emily Manz, who co-founded the Have You Met Newark Tours, which has been giving out of towners and even locals a fresh look at the city through educational and fun walking tours that cover the city’s history, recent developments, and interesting small businesses.
In addition to these highly-recommended tours, Manz heads her own business, EMI Strategy, whose mission is to generate experiences and interest in downtown areas and commercial corridors all over. She has been a lecturer at Rutgers University and worked in economic development as a professional. She has two master’s degrees, one from Rutgers in urban planning, and another in international relations from Central European University. She received her bachelor’s degree in economics and political science from the University of Delaware.
Earlier this year, Manz was named the new executive director of Preservation New Jersey, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and promoting the heritage of the state, in addition to bolstering its economic vitality and sustainability. Many Newarkers were excited that a passionate city stalwart would be a leader at an important organization. Newark has many historic sites as it one of the oldest cities in the country.
What follows is an interview, edited for length, that covers her recent appointment to Preservation New Jersey, what she hopes to bring to her new role, and of course, Newark!
What do you hope to accomplish in your tenure as executive director?
I'm really interested in expanding the array of educational events that we have in in New Jersey. These educational programs would go to support people who maybe are really interested in a single site that's really important to them. We can give them information that can allow them to be a productive, successful advocate for that site.
We already do an incredible job creating awareness for historic preservation and identifying endangered sites across the state with our 10 most endangered list. And now, I really want to turn the dial up and create programing that helps people advocate, speak with legislators, and found out how do they take the next step of saving properties?
How does the rest of your work on promoting Newark, other downtowns and commercial corridors dovetail with your work? Is it a natural extension of your work with Preservation New Jersey?
Yes, definitely. This role is part-time which allows me to continue to do my other projects, which I will be continuing. And I do think they are a natural fit with my Preservation New Jersey role because I really try to highlight in my consulting work that there is so much hidden history in these towns to talk about and celebrate and share. In some of my work, I promote restaurants. Even in a food tour, we try to impart some history of the area. Right? And we're all about authentic placebranding with Have You Met Newark and authentic experiences. And I think sharing a place's history is often an underutilized tool for getting people to be interested in a place and for getting them to want to travel there, visit and spend their money there.
Is there is there anything that you feel have been successfully done in terms of preservation in Newark?
There are a lot of buildings in the downtown that have been successfully preserved. I think what the Hanini Group did at the old National Bank building and how they made it into Hotel Indigo was just incredible. You have this beautiful roof top view, and putting my Preservation New Jersey hat on, I love how the building preserves a lot of original elements and uses artistic touches, like the mosaic of the ticker tape machine in the lobby that speaks back to Thomas Edison's time in that location. That’s the site of his first factory and where he met his first wife. Most people know more about his West Orange life, but his first factory was right there on Edison Place.
And the building is also right next to Old First Church which was the meeting house where Newark was essentially formally incorporated. Having those two sites right next to each other is a nice slice of history. And then I think the Hahne and Co. building is another big success story we have. On our tours, we've had people come who remember working at the glove counter, or they remember shopping with their mom or visiting there.
Any endangered sites in Newark you are concerned about?
I'm very concerned about a lot of the religious buildings that are around the city - the churches, synagogues, etc. It’s very hard to upkeep those structures. But what I think is interesting, which some people don't know, is that most of these structures are still in use and being used by many different congregations and groups for many different purposes today, which is great. These structures themselves are just so beautiful. And they tell interesting stories about Newark's past and should be restored for the future.
In your role as an executive director for Preservation New Jersey, what are you most excited about?
I am definitely excited about a lot of things. As soon as I came into this role, I started to meet people across the state that are doing some really interesting things. For example, there is a woman on our board who is co-founder of an organization in Bridgeton, New Jersey called Chaba, which is an area that I'm not very familiar with. Her organization provides bilingual information session, online and paper resources related to living in a historic district since they have a large Spanish speaking population. They were actually the first in the state to translate their historic district guidelines into Spanish. I am excited about projects like that happening across the state, and I want to elevate that work.
And putting my tourism hat, I am really interested and excited about getting in more discussions about historic preservation and tourism at the state level, when I have been having these discussions more locally in the past.