HANDS, Inc., a non-profit that works to revitalize neighborhoods in Orange and East Orange, hosted an opening celebration and ribbon cutting ceremony for the Firehouse Lofts on Tuesday.
The lofts, at 580 Forest Street in Orange, are a restoration of a historic building in the Valley Arts District that once was a firehouse dating back to 1905, complete with horse-drawn fire wagons. The building now houses stylish artist lofts and the Firehouse Gallery, a cooperative gallery currently showing exhibits by artists Dan Fenelon and Jennifer Levine.
"The Firehouse Lofts dedication highlighted the wonderful blend of HANDS’ stakeholders in the community, the arts, philanthropy, government, nonprofit and business," said Jessica Mathelier, communications director for HANDS. "When we share a vision of the future and work together, the results are phenomenal."
Willis Edwards III, City of Orange Township Business Administrator officially inaugurated the Firehouse Lofts, which was open to tours. Orange Mayor Dwayne Warren was unable to attend due to illness, but his wife attended on his behalf.
HANDS rehabilitated the property as part of an overall revitalization of the Valley Arts District, a former industrial neighborhood that spans sections of Orange and West Orange.
HANDS focuses on redeveloping vacant homes (some facing foreclosure) for affordable homeownership, adaptively reusing former industrial and commercial buildings as mixed-use developments, developing resident leaders and leading community visioning and comprehensive planning. In 1986, there were 400 vacant properties in Orange in 1986. By 2007, there were only 47, many filled by new homes and enterprises.
Revitalized and re-purposed enterprises in the district include the Garden State Urban Farms, led by Maplewood resident Lorraine Gibbons; The Ironworks which houses after-school teen programs and artist studios, and ArtsUnbound.
Two signature buildings of the district -- the Stetson factory and the Berg factory -- are the hat factories that led Orange to be known as "Hat City."
The restoration of the Firehouse Lofts is part of HANDS' strategy to rehabilitate key properties to house artists, innovators and creative entrepreneurs, which can serve as catalysts for bringing the neighborhood back to life.
The Firehouse was one of several vacant and deteriorated commercial and industrial properties, many with environmental challenges, according to a press release. The rehabilitation preserved much of the original interior tin walls and ceilings while creating sky-lit interiors with modern amenities and private outdoor decks.
The event also helped launch HANDS’ year-end fundraising campaign to ensure that low and moderate income residents and mission-oriented business owners and tenants can afford to live and work in the neighborhood, helping maintain the area's diversity and vitality. The organization also works to attract additional investment by private developers and business owners.