HACKENSACK, NJ – Fifteen years since the Hackensack Main Street Business Alliance (MSBA) forged a bond to tackle issues facing the business community with the goal of revamping the local economy head-on, city leaders past and present congregated at the Stony Hill Inn on November 7 to celebrate the fruits of their labor in the fast-developing downtown.
On display inside a ballroom of the stately Dutch homestead were renderings of all the new buildings on Main Street from the Court House addition to the luxury apartment complex under construction on the site of the former headquarters of The Record to the Hackensack Performing Arts Center. A banner depicting the mural of a postcard, which was painted by world-renowned artist Damien Mitchell on the side of the Alexander Anderson Real Estate Group Building on Bergen Street, which reads, “The Sack, Greetings from New Jersey” was also on display in the center of the room. Its block letters contain pictures of nightlife, the HACPAC, a saxophonist and Superman.
Eric Anderson, MSBA secretary, emceed the three-hour-long event, which was well attended by at least 100 guests and honored the work of alliance chairman, Jerome Lombardo.
“Our alliance is looking to promote our downtown as an exciting new place to be filled with restaurants, nightlife, art, and new residences,” said Anderson in his opening remarks.
The Hackensack Main Street Business Alliance is a public/private partnership that formed between the business community and the city of Hackensack in 2004 with city leaders around the country from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. invested in identifying and brainstorming creative solutions to improve their downtowns and thereby their overall business climate.
In that time, business and city leaders in Hackensack have worked to revitalize the business district – a mixed-use community of 370-plus businesses, over 120 property owners, and a burgeoning residential population. Presently, The Current on River, a 254-unit luxury apartment complex under development by Hekemian at 18 East Camden – a stone’s throw away from the Hackensack Performing Arts Center – is slated to open this winter.
City Mayor John LaBrosse, Jr. said Hackensack’s developing downtown will see a rise in property values and new tax ratables, which will ease the tax burden on city taxpayers. He also mentioned the upkeep of the downtown, which includes crews removing graffiti to beautify the area. The city’s objective for the downtown is to render a 24-hour destination for business, arts, culture, dining and communal activities such as holiday tree lighting celebrations, street festivals and business expos. Throughout this past week, Creative Hackensack installed a “Hacktivator Booth” at the Atlantic Street Bus Station. This creative place making initiative, led by the MSBA’s Creative Arts Team in partnership with the Northern New Jersey Community Foundation’s ArtsBergen, entailed a local actor sitting in a neon green-lit booth that was filled with red balloons and being “awaken” by a commuter who hit a gold button after filling out a brief survey and answered the question “what brings you back to life?” Their responses were collected to garner community input for the creation of an art walk at Demarest Place to revive the area and the city’s artistic character and welcome new residents and visitors.
Elsewhere in the city, a visitor parking lot has been established on Atlantic Street, the Giant Farmers Market, Atlantic Street Park behind the HACPAC, Meridia Metro apartments on State Street, and an abundance of apartment complexes at 210, 240, 439 Main Street, in addition to the 654 units part of a luxury apartment complex plus 18,000 square feet of retail components on the former site of The Record’s former headquarters at 150 River Street, among the many other developments and more on the horizon.
“It’s been one of the best public/private partnerships I’ve ever witnessed, and it’s moved forward greatly,” said Mayor John LaBrosse of the MSBA, who also credited Hasbrouck Heights-based DMR Architects as one of the “driving forces” that began Hackensack’s revitalization efforts of the 163-acre stretch of the downtown. “It’s been an unbelievable journey.”
LaBrosse also noted the recent streetscape improvements, the prominent one making Main Street two ways to better traverse the area.
“Right now, if you go down Atlantic Street, from Atlantic from the hospital [Hackensack Meridian Health] down, you can make a right onto Main Street,” said LaBrosse to a cheering crowd. “It’s a great deal.”
Jerome Lombardo, MSBA chairman, was the star of the festivities. George Venarchik, the alliance’s founding board trustee, called him an “advocate” for Main Street while praising his “desire, energy and commitment” as an inspiration.
“When it came time to elect a chairman, who else would you have brought?” said Venarchik. “Here’s a man who came with his father to Banta Place in 1968 and was at his father’s side the whole time shepherding, learning, promoting Main Street, watching over Main Street. It’s organic in the man. It shows through everything he does. He’s tireless.”
He continued, “If you want to have something done, give it to a busy man. I don’t know anyone busier than Jerome Lombardo.”
Anderson acknowledged the “countless hours” he has devoted and will continue to devote to revitalize the city’s business district before he was presented with a proclamation from the mayor. Anderson presented him with a second from the Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders proclaiming November 7 Jerome Lombardo Day in Hackensack. By the gifts didn’t end there. Lombardo also received a small crystal glass statue engraved with the street scape of Main Street specially crafted by a Florida-based sculptor from alliance executive director Patrice Foresman.
While Lombardo expressed his gratitude for the honor, he acknowledged the other “puzzle pieces” who had a hand in the business district’s many achievements which included all stakeholders from past and present city leaders to YMCA and Chamber of Commerce representatives, among many others who forged an “intoxicating chemistry.”
“Thomas Jefferson once said, ‘Government is the strongest of which every man feels himself a part,’” said Lombardo. “And looking back, I truly believe that was our secret. The fact that so many had ownership of what was being undertaken and each had brought their individual energy, ideas and passion to the table. And it all had such an impact. That and a hell of a lot of good luck. The city’s blessings of good fortune continued when our current great mayor John LaBrosse was elected along with Deputy Mayor Kathleen Canestrino, Deputy Mayor David Sims, Councilman Leo Battaglia and Councilwoman Stephanie Von Rudenborg. Those folks had and continue to have the vision and courage to make tough decisions. And at the same time continue to keep the progress moving forward in the downtown, which was not easy.”
Lombardo also commended late city resident Jerome Some for his optimism towards the undertaking of a project of this magnitude. A special plaque bearing Some’s name will be placed in a yet-to-be disclosed location on Main Street in his honor.
“Now that we are at the precipice of greatness, it is not the time to falter, but to continue to be bold and dream big,” said Lombardo. “Enjoy the ride that is coming.”