ORANGE, NJ — HANDS celebrated a neighborhood revitalization milestone on Friday, June 1, with the completion of Hat City Lofts — the adaptive reuse of blighted factories transformed into vibrant affordable loft living and creative economy commercial space. HANDS Executive Director Luther Flurry was joined by U.S. Rep. Donald M. Payne Jr., Orange Mayor Dwayne Warren, New Jersey Community Capital President Wayne Meyer and HANDS founder Patrick Morrissy, along with government officials, funders and partner organizations, residents and business owners on Thursday, May 31, in the courtyard of Hat City Lofts, formerly the F. Berg Hat Factory, at 475 South Jefferson St., Orange.
“Throughout the United States, we are seeing a resurgence of local communities,” said Payne. “The Hat City Lofts project is the cornerstone for Orange’s arts community. This development, which my father worked hard to boost, will help revitalize the neighborhood and make the Valley Arts District a creative hub for entrepreneurship and artistic expression.”
A recipient of the 2016 New Jersey Future Smart Growth Award, this collaborative initiative between residents, business owners, artists, religious organizations and HANDS, using an “it takes a village” approach, helped to transform a vacant, blighted and neglected hat- manufacturing industrial complex into a new, creative economy by creating 32 loft condominiums and 10 commercial arts and studio spaces. The historic 1864 and 1907 structures now house 800- to 1,200-square-foot units and feature high ceilings, large windows and open floor plans. Each condo has a new kitchen and bath or baths, with new heating and electrical systems.
“The story of the Valley, and of renovating the Berg Hat Factory, is one of community. Working together, neighbors created a vision for the Valley. Working with community partners, HANDS, ValleyArts, the township and others are creating vibrant places for people to live, work, raise their family, meet and play,” said Flurry. “The Berg Hat Factory was the most visible eyesore, the most pivotal property. Hat City Lofts, as it is now called, anchors the Valley. Today, the Valley, and Hat City Lofts, are places where artists, makers, entrepreneurs and residents from around the world build homes, businesses and community. The neighborhood vision is being realized today.”
This property is in the Valley Arts District and is part of HANDS’ efforts to provide affordable housing to low- and moderate-income families and space for small businesses, as the neighborhood transforms as a hub for innovation and creativity. The adaptive reuse of this complex now serves as a catalyst to accelerate a renaissance in this neighborhood and beyond. Now revived with the energy of excited residents and makers, this project represents the completion of HANDS’ commitment to create 100 long-term affordable arts spaces as part of a plan to reinvent a former industrial neighborhood driven by a creative economy. The Hat City Lofts and adjacent Powerhouse will house more than 30 full-time jobs at full occupancy.
“We are thrilled to celebrate the completion of Hat City Lofts,” said Wayne Meyer, president of New Jersey Community Capital. “We are proud to be a partner in this cornerstone project, creating this thriving center of culture, arts, and community. Congratulations to HANDS. Without their vision, perseverance and leadership, none of this would be possible.”
NJCC has had a hand in the redevelopment of the former Berg hat factory from the beginning. The Berg was the biggest, tallest, grim reminder of both the Valley’s industrial prominence and its staggering decline. After helping HANDS acquire the building with almost $500,000 in loans, NJCC then shifted to the role of co-developer. Through its nonprofit real estate subsidiary, Community Asset Preservation Corp., NJCC helped HANDS both find the full financing needed and complete the construction. As the former director of Housing at HANDS, Meyer has helped bring the project he started there, full circle — an integral piece of the entire Valley Arts District revitalization he helped to realize.
“HANDS has been a shining example of the power of collaboration and of partnership by bringing people together to create projects that make a difference in neighborhoods in places like Orange,” said Director Janel Winter of Division of Housing and Community Resources. Other speakers at the event included Payne, Warren, Mayor, New Jersey Field Office Director Maria Maio-Messano, Northeast Region of NeighborWorks America Senior Director Eileen Anderson, Real Estate for CAPC Director Jeffery Crum and other partner and funding supporters.
The project was funded and financed by the state of New Jersey Neighborhood Revitalization Tax Credit Program, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-Economic Development Initiative Special Project Grant, NeighborWorks America, New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, Community Housing Capital and New Jersey Community Capital. Special operations support was provided and coordinated by Community Asset Preservation Corporation.