PATERSON, NJ- The Art Factory on Spruce Street has been approved for a major renovation following a unanimous decision by the City Planning Board on Tuesday.

Currently a venue for co-working artists, studio space, and light industrial work, the expansion would revamp the space into a center for the arts in Paterson.

The plan is to open up the space to every day public use through the addition of boutique shops, galleries, a restaurant, and overnight spaces for members and visiting crew. Additionally, two trolley lines will be constructed through the city to allow for parking off site.

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David Garsia, managing member and partial owner of Great Falls Industrial Park Inc, the company that owns the site, spoke on behalf of the project. “We’re bringing something to Paterson that doesn’t exist here yet.” 

He referred to indoor markets in New York’s SoHo and Chelsea neighborhoods as inspiration for the restructuring.

A number of small boutique shops and art galleries will be installed for the use of local artists and vendors, and the restaurant will be locally operated and make use of food grown in onsite gardens. Additionally, overnight rooms are being added for members of the factory and out-of-town film crews that often come to shoot on the location. 

Initially planned to cost $9 million, the expansion project has already exceeded $12 million and counting. The additional cost, according to the company, has been associated with renovating and preserving the location’s historic buildings. 

The 25-building, 232,000 square foot space is spread over 4.7-acres and was initially constructed in 1840 as a rope factory for the American Hemp Company. From 1850 to the 1950s, The Dolphin Manufacturing Company produced twisted jute carpeting at the site, and in 1978, David Garsia’s father bought the property.

It wasn’t until about 2012 that Garsia fully transitioned the site from a manufacturing space into the Art Factory. Artists from around the area can rent space in the factory to work, use equipment, and meet other artists. Once the expansion is completed, they will also be able to show and sell their work.

Of particular interest to the Planning Board was the proposed trolley system. Due to the lack of on parking on the site, the company was required to provide a viable alternative. 

Two tracks would be laid; an outside and interior loop. The outside loop will travel all around the city, including stops at the Passaic County Administration Building, the train station, and Passaic Community College, while the interior would travel through the downtown as well as out to the Great Falls National Park. Both would travel to the Art Factory and stop at garages owned by the Paterson Parking Authority to provide parking to visitors.

The trolleys would be free to use and operate from about 7am- 6pm every day. Garsia hopes that they would help transform Paterson into the kind of city where people “come for a day like you go to Lambertville or New Hope.” 

The planning board added three conditions before it voted 5-0 in favor of allowing the project.   

First, the company will need to reach an agreement with the Paterson Parking Authority on use of the parking garages on Ellison and Market Streets after operating hours. Garsia stated that he has received informal permission to keep the garages open late in the case of special events, but the board wanted written approval.

Second, the trolley system consisting of two trolleys must be part of the project.

Third, all requirements on Certificates of Occupancy (CO) must be met. This relates to a question of whether each individual vendor/member of the Factory must have their own CO, which has been an ongoing battle between the company and the city. In adding this condition, the Planning Board effectively avoided passing verdict on an issue it felt was outside its purview.

Aside from their conditions, board members praised Garsia and Great Falls Industrial Park for a project they see as putting the city first. “It’s always refreshing to see a return on our investment,” said Vice Chair Dr. Lilisa Mimms who presided over the meeting

With approval, the company can begin finalizing the expansive plans and timetable for site renovation and construction of the trolley.