The developers of the Seymour Street arts district project and several Montclair municipal officials assembled at the Wellmont Theater Monday for the project’s groundbreaking ceremony, but it was evident that the ground had not only been broken literally before it was broken ceremonially, it had been dug out on a mass scale. The ceremonial shovel digging took place in front of a giant pit where the Social Security Administration building and the former Somerset Tire Service repair shop used to stand.
A new six-story building providing apartments and arts space will occupy that parcel, and it will be joined by a new seven-story building adjacent to the Wellmont. The six-story building will have 200 apartments and 28,000 square feet of retail space with 224 parking spaces on site, plus 10,000 square feet of space to be available for rental by artists. The seven-story building will feature 40,000 square feet of office space and 210 parking spaces.
Construction on the foundation of the new building across from the Wellmont is already well under way, and a new pedestrian plaza, designed by David Lustberg, will replace the current part of Seymour Street that the Wellmont faces.
There was a new face among the township and county officials and representatives of the Brookfield and Pinnacle development companies. David Barry of the Ironstate Development Company was brought in by Brookfield to help coordinate the project about a year earlier. Barry said he was thrilled to be working on a development that would bring out the special attributes of Montclair – its history, cultural life, and renowned architecture.
The new arts components, Barry said, would allow Montclair to thrive and continue its reputation as a special town to visit. Third Ward Councilor Sean Spiller, acting in his capacity as deputy mayor, echoed those sentiments in his remarks, and he praised Mayor Robert Jackson, fellow council members, and members of the Planning Board and the Historic Preservation Commission for the team effort in making the arts district project possible by working together and representing the interests of the people they serve.
Councilor Spiller said this project, along with others currently under development, mark an exciting time for Montclair.
“When we look outside now, yes, you see a big, open pit in the ground,” Spiller said, “but it really is a sign of what’s to come.” What is to come, Councilor Spiller explained, is a vibrant, walkable district where people enjoy performing arts and other art events and congregate in a new public square. He added that, as a nearby resident, he was excitedly looking forward to it.
Mayor Jackson recalled going to the movies at the Wellmont when it was a movie theater and had always considered it a special place, but he never imagined it would be the centerpiece of such a magnificent project, which he likened to a “miniature Lincoln Center.” The mayor declared that the arts district, once completed, will put Montclair on the map.
Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, who begins his fifth term as county executive in January and has defined his administration with new and refurbished county amenities, said he is excited by the new project at a time when Essex County is enjoying a large construction boom. He praised Barry for his involvement, saying he is a man who makes sure that the project gets done in the best possible manner.
“Anything he touches turns to gold,” DiVincenzo said.
Planning Board member Martin Schwartz told Baristanet that Mayor Jackson deserves the most credit, underscoring the mayor’s importance as a leader in a council-manager government where a mayor’s executive responsibilities are few.
“Mayor Jackson’s vision was the driving force behind this project,” Schwartz said. “He empowered the Planning Board with the means and time to work through the details and aesthetics to produce the kind of quality project we see today.”
The $135 million project, which also includes a five-story municipal parking garage with 315 parking spaces at the intersection of Glenridge Avenue and Forest Street, is expected to be completed in 2020.