Some of us remember it as Americana Ironworks, a deep yard filled with cast-iron benches, planters, birdbaths and other assorted treasures. I was in fact a regular customer, with several planters and a birdbath to show for it.
In 2005, the property at 192-194 Bloomfield Ave. in Montclair (just east of Elm Street) was sold to developers, who began work cramming a condo building into the space that had once been a yard.
And then, about a year and a half ago, the project fell victim to the economic crisis. The almost-completed building has been standing vacant, surrounded by a chain link fence. “The developer went into foreclosure,” said Montclair Planning Director Janice Talley, who is trying to bring the building and the area nearby back to life. “The bank owns it. The developer obviously didn’t have the wherewithal to complete the project.” She says there is an investor who is interested in buying the building from the bank and completing it. “I’m trying to help him on my end to move it along.”
In June, the Montclair Times wrote about the creation of a planning board subcommittee that is trying to revive that section of town. Talley sent the planning board a memo — which township attorney Ira Karasick now says is privileged and will not allow Talley to release to Baristanet — about whether changes in zoning regulations could help.
The area got Transit Village designation last summer, and the township got grant money for streetscape improvements and wayfaring signage. But, says Talley, the town is speaking to developers and considering zoning changes because “part of what Transit Village redevelopment is [about] is development.”
She adds, “I’m trying to create a more attractive appearance to this entrance to Montclair.”
Among the challenges is the fact that the area, directly behind the new Charles Bullock school, is the most crime-riddled section of town. In a 2009 interview with Baristanet, Montclair Police Chief David Sabagh identified the area between Willow Street and Mission Street as the epicenter of a summer surge in street crime, including a number of armed robberies. In 2008, the township eliminated the police substation at Lackawanna Plaza, which served this area.
“I know it’s an area where there have been some concerns about crime and safety,” Talley said. But she thinks that getting residential development directly on Bloomfield Ave. will help. “We don’t have any eyes on the street during evening hours.”
The story of the old American Ironworks property is a sad one. Michael Emrich, who owned the business, along with American Antiques (on the spot occupied by Trend Coffee House now), passed away in February at the untimely age of 49.
The taxpayer of record is Lackawanna Developers of 95 Cedar Lane in Englewood, but it doesn’t come up on a Google search and Aboudi Realty, which has its corporate offices at that address, knows nothing about the former tenant.
According to Montclair tax rolls, there are 11 condos at the 192-194 Bloomfield Ave. address, which are each being charged $1995 a year in taxes.
Ironically, Google Maps still has a picture of how the property looked before the building project began, but after the ironworks were cleared out. It was a magical place in its day.