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New life for arts building’s redevelopment

Investors aim to preserve Hoboken industrial site

Deanna Hunt knew she had found a home for her event production company in 2006 when she moved This Is It Stageworks to the Monroe Center for the Arts, in Hoboken. With the airy feel of a loft and a diverse mix of tenants, the five-story building gave the company the space and the creative atmosphere it…

Deanna Hunt knew she had found a home for her event production company in 2006 when she moved This Is It Stageworks to the Monroe Center for the Arts, in Hoboken. With the airy feel of a loft and a diverse mix of tenants, the five-story building gave the company the space and the creative atmosphere it needed.

Hunt’s excitement only grew when the building’s owners announced plans to redevelop the site, where Levelor once made blinds, into a mixed-use hub of residential, retail and public space. But those plans were derailed in late 2008 when the developer, Monroe Center II Urban Renewal Co. LLC, filed for bankruptcy protection.

“We did look at other spaces,” said Hunt, who co-founded This Is It. “But there’s nothing like this around. There’s nothing else like this in Hudson County.”

Now, new investors, led by a North Bergen-based developer, have stepped in with hopes of rejuvenating the project in line with the original vision for the site as an anchor for the local and regional arts communities.

The developer, Hershy Weiss, of Basad Realty, plans to complete two of the five phases of the project originally slated for the 190,000-square-foot site, which comprises two buildings at 750 Monroe St. That includes a series of systems and building upgrades, new public art exhibition spaces, and renovations that will expand the house occupancy of a theater used by three local performance groups, Weiss said.

For the nearly 60 tenants that now occupy the Monroe Center — ranging from painters and puppet-makers, to travel agents and accountants — the plan brings a sense of stability to a building that has been mired in financial uncertainty. For Monroe Investment Group, the venture Weiss is leading, the project is a unique opportunity beyond a typical office or residential building.

“The fact that there isn’t a lot of this type of space makes it more attractive, because there’s a need for it,” Weiss said. “And it’s a lot more exciting and interesting to work on a unique building like this than to put the same energy into just building another condo building.”

Weiss said the renovations will take place over the next several months. When complete, he said, he hopes to have a site filled with gallery, lounge and garden space, allowing the building’s business tenants to interact with their artistic counterparts.

Weiss, a Union City native, had been drawn to the Monroe Center long before he acquired the buildings in a 2011 bankruptcy sale, he said. For 16 years he passed the site during his commute home from North Bergen to Brooklyn, N.Y. And as someone who has seen the Mile Square City change, Weiss believed the property was worth preserving.

“I’ve watched Hoboken transform … from piles of junk yards to the beautiful city it is right now, and watched all these old industrial buildings come down,” Weiss said. “And this was always a standout, because it was one of the only old industrial buildings still left in Hoboken.”

The Monroe Center is in the city’s northwest redevelopment zone, a sector that’s poised for continued residential growth in the coming years, said George Vallone, president of Hoboken Brownstone Co. He welcomed an effort to preserve one of the city’s few remaining industrial sites, adding that the artistic and commercial services offered by the center “are going to have an ever-increasing demand” as development moves ahead.

“It’s a very high quality of theater they put on there, and I think that’s great because it gives people that live in Hoboken a reason to go out at night and be entertained” in the city, said Vallone, who has been building in the city for 30 years. “And all of the little businesses that are in there are important components of Hoboken, because it keeps the commercial sector pretty vibrant.”

Soon after stepping in, Weiss worked with architects to restart the first phase of the project, which includes many of the renovations outlined under the original plan. He also has spent time getting to know his tenants, getting input and making small, but important fixes around the building, he said.

Weiss said the company also has focused on other “smaller things that could be done immediately, whether it’s locking the building up, installing cameras, bringing in a new cleaning company or redesigning the entrance.”

The developer intends to replace the lighting and sound systems of the theater, which is among the building’s most important features. He hopes a revitalized theater will attract a wider variety of performances, making the Monroe Center more of a hub for the artists and merchants.

In order to attract artists and small, energetic businesses, the firm is trying to keep rents low and plans to designate a portion of the building for affordable artist lofts, Weiss said. About 40,000 square feet of loft and office space, and 20,000 square feet of retail space, remain available, he said, though six new tenants have moved in since Weiss’ group took over.

And despite having put in long days and nights to help restart the project, Weiss said the concept behind Monroe Center is worth the effort.

“I’ve been doing this for many years, and it’s always been a job,” he said. “I’m actually having fun doing this.”

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Joshua Burd