Published in the Star Ledger, Thursday, February 21, 2008
In a hat tip to past, city sells factory
Old Stetson site will become housing
BY KEVIN C. DILWORTH
A proposal to transform one of the old Stetson hat factory buildings into artists' residence cleared a major hurdle after the Orange City Council approved the sale of the structure to a consortium of developers.
The council voted 4-3 Tuesday night to sell 540 Mitchell St. for $300,000. Those opposed to the sale argued the price was too low.
"My issue is, and has been, the price," said Councilman Edward Marable. "I'm not convinced that the price is fair and equitable."
But supporters said the sale would lead to a transformation of what is being called the Valley Arts district.
"We will restore this historic landmark building, and make it a destination, with artists living and working in the renovated struc ture," said Patrick Morrissy, direc tor of the nonprofit Housing and Neighborhood Development Services (HANDS) Inc. organization, a partner with a consortium of developers known as Harvard Development Associates, said yesterday.
"We're going to buy the property next door, demolish it, and then build a new building, with 14 artist live-work lofts, and it will be connected to the historic struc ture," Morrissy said.
A century ago, the building partly comprised the Stetson family's "No Name Hat Factory" complex. It is just one of several properties that the city of Orange, as part of a Aug. 2, 2006 contract, is obli gated to sell to the consortium. It is all part of the city's Central Val ley Redevelopment Plan.
That plan calls for breathing new residential and business life into that section of the city, where 33 hat manufacturing firms were part of a renowned hat manufacturing capital, between the late 1800s and early 1920s.
Today, the area today is dubbed the future Valley Arts District, and the consortium, that also includes Alpert Group LLC of Fort Lee, and Ironstate Holdings LLC, a division of the Applied Development Co. of Hoboken, is responsible for transforming a five-block area, along Jef ferson Street, into a community for artists.
The sale of the building was approved by council members Has san Abdul-Rasheed, Tency Eason, Vivian Gaunt and Lisa Perkins. In addition to Marble, council members Donald Page and Coram Rimes voted against the sale.
During the meeting Tuesday, questions were raised about the appraised value of the building, and why the city should not renege on its contractual obligation, risk a lawsuit, and accept a $400,000 bid and sell the building to someone else.
Marable, along with Janice Mor rell, chairwoman of the Orange Zoning Board of Adjustment, chastised city officials for getting just one appraised value on the building, and for using that single figure to seal a deal, without any negotiation.
The Rev. G. Wiggins, who iden tified himself as the pastor of the Memorial West Presbyterian Church in Newark, said the city was making a big mistake by not accepting his counteroffer to buy the building for $100,000 more.
A contract is a contract and such a suggestion is unethical and illegal, Jewel Thompson-Chin, the city's business administrator, told the religious leader, city council and the public.
"Why backstab our partners?" Thompson-Chin asked rhetorically. "That is not how we do business in the city."
Orange, as part of an approved redevelopment agreement with the consortium of developers, is obli gated to "convey parcels out, as part of that redevelopment plan," to the developers associated with Harvard Development Associates, Thompson-Chin said. "We cannot consider his (Higgins) offer."
Marable agreed, and cited how the council has a fiduciary responsibility and "good faith" obligation" to live up to its agreement with the developers.
"This is a bad decision," said Higgins, who suggested Orange break its contract with the developers and risk the unethical backlash that might result.
"A black eye is better than selling (Orange's) future down the tubes," Higgins reasoned.
Councilwoman Tency Eason said she was baffled by Higgins stance.
Up until last month, "I never heard of him or his church," Eason said. "He came out of nowhere."
Now that the boarded up 540 Mitchell Street is in the hands of the approved developers, the city is better off, Eason said.
"It's a great opportunity for the city," Eason said. "It'll be a great project. It's going to revitalize the Valley (neighborhood). It's been so long, and now, to see some life come back to it. Everybody should be happy."
Higgins could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Kevin C. Dilworth may be reached at kdilworth@starled ger.com or (973) 392-4143.
Online story here. Archived here.
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- Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.