WEST ORANGE, NJ — The Valley Arts district of West Orange and Orange has been going through a resurgence in recent years, continuing Wednesday Aug. 8, with the groundbreaking of the Valley Residential project on Central Avenue. The empty lot will soon be turned into residential development, built by New Jersey Housing, Mortgage Finance Agency and the Alpert Group. The redevelopment project, which will bring 100 housing units, 55 of which are designated as affordable housing, is a collaboration with neighboring Orange. The first phase of the project converted the Harvard Printing site into an apartment building that was completed in 2017.
“These buildings have been here and abandoned for as long as I can remember, and I’ve been here my whole life,” Mayor Robert Parisi said in an interview with the West Orange Chronicle at the event. “If you had asked valley people who lived here, they probably would have said it would be empty forever.”
Parisi said that the Harvard Printing building, located on the Orange side of the Orange-West Orange border, was fully rented in about six months. Working with Orange, he said, was a partnership that benefited both towns.
“It’s uncommon around here, but they saw the benefits and we saw the benefits, so it’s been a good relationship,” Parisi said.
David Barry, president of the Ironstate Development Company and an investor in the project, is familiar with the area, having been born in East Orange and raised in South Orange.
“It’s a pleasure to contribute to the revitalization of the area,” Barry said at the event. “It’s been nothing but positive working on this, and we’re really excited to get this phase of redevelopment started.”
“It felt fantastic to finally break ground and get the financing all set,” Joe Alpert said in a phone interview with the Chronicle on Aug. 9. “We’re happy to get it going.”
Alpert heads the Alpert Group, a real estate management and development company based in Fort Lee. He said it took approximately eight years to prepare for the Central Avenue projects, and even longer to begin the West Orange portion.
“The mayor and the town officials have been fantastic; they helped us along every step of the way,” Alpert said, adding that Orange town officials were also very supportive of the project.
Because half of the housing units will be affordable, with 11 reserved for low-income and very-low-income residents, the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency chief of staff, Katie Brennan, spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony.
“Every New Jerseyan deserves a safe, affordable home,” Brennan said at the event. “This will bring 100 market price and affordable apartments to the town. What was old, vacant housing will be turned into a vibrant arts district.”
As several town officials said at the event, the project site is located close to the local arts district; both the Luna Stage theater and the West Orange Arts Center are located a few streets away from the site.
“It’s exciting with Luna close by and the arts district growing,” Parisi said. “There are a lot of things happening that people should be excited about.”
Alpert said the design of the building will fit into the growing arts district.
“There’s definitely a cultural impact and there’s a lot going on in the area, so it’ll be able to fit into that pretty well,” he said.
Photos by Amanda Valentovic