Working for Smart Growth:
More Livable Places and Open Spaces

 

New Life for a Building, New Optimism for a City

Project Name: People’s Bank Building

Repurposing of a vacant Art Deco building into an office and retail anchor to catalyze job creation in a central location in a revitalizing urban downtown

Partners: City of Passaic; The Hanini Group LLC; Low Income Investment Fund; New Jersey Community Capital

 

 


Unlike during its industrial manufacturing heyday, the city of Passaic has recently suffered high rates of unemployment, a low rate of high-school graduation, and low median household income. In the middle of the city, on a prime block in the downtown business corridor, sits the former People’s Bank Building, at 12 stories the tallest building in Passaic County. It was constructed during the Great Depression and is a designated historic landmark. Prior to the start of the revitalization project in November 2016, the building had been vacant for more than 20 years. With no preventative upkeep, it had been damaged by exposure to rain and winds, and a stream that ran under the building had flooded the basement. Overall, it exacerbated the sense of disinvestment and decline that permeated the entire city, and damaged the viability of any potential redevelopment projects nearby.

Today this distinctive Art Deco building has been completely reborn as a commercial, retail and business hub. A fitness facility and a restaurant with outdoor seating, part of the city’s efforts to expand its existing Passaic Bistro District, occupy the bottom three floors. The Passaic Board of Education has moved from its former location in the Passaic High School into six of the office floors. This move has not only freed up needed teaching space at the high school, it has brought new jobs, along with the associated foot traffic and commerce, to the heart of the city’s downtown.

In addition to the building itself, the project also includes the development of a small plaza area next to it, named the Dr. Joseph Buga Parque in a nod to the longtime director of the city’s Enterprise Zone and to the city’s large Latino population. The parque will be used for community events, beginning in late spring 2019 with a farmer’s market sponsored by City Green, a Clifton, New Jersey-based nonprofit urban farming and gardening organization that works to revitalize urban areas through agriculture and educational programming.

Financing for the project was accomplished through a mixture of private capital, historic preservation tax credits, a grant from the city’s Urban Enterprise Zone program to improve the facade, and New Market Tax Credits, without which the project could not have moved forward.

Completion of the project was not without its engineering challenges. Besides the remedial work needed on a building that had sat vacant for so long, including pumping out the basement water and testing it for contamination, the building has full facades on all four sides, giving it no natural service entrances and making it difficult to divide any facade to meet the delivery needs of the building’s retail and restaurant tenants.

The renovated People’s Bank Building welcomed its first occupants in March 2018. Today it stands as testament to rigorous efforts by the city to reactivate a key portion of its downtown, catalyze job expansion and local business growth in an area well served by transit, and spark additional redevelopment in the city’s central business corridor. The difference is palpable, not just within the building but throughout the neighborhood: There are new businesses, new jobs and new activity on the street, new tax revenue for the city, and a new sense of anticipation and excitement about the future.

Supporting Partners: Passaic Urban Enterprise Zone Program; US Bancorp; Monge Capital

See all 2019 Smart Growth Awards

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