Paterson’s Art Factory looking for a $9 million renovation

PATERSON — The “Art Factory” complex, made up of 19th-century industrial buildings, is reportedly undergoing a $9.25 million renovation as part of a plan to create a cultural hub in Paterson’s historic Great Falls neighborhood.

The 10-building complex off Spruce Street would contain art studios, exhibition areas, retail space, cafes and even accommodation in 18 “night units”, according to plans submitted to the town.

The owners hope to draw hundreds of visitors to the resort during peak usage, according to the planning app. In order to avoid demolishing any of the historic structures, the owners propose the creation of two new jitney roads to take visitors to the site.

The ambitious plans stand in stark contrast to the controversies that have clouded the Art Factory in recent years, including the city fire department’s decision to shut down the two-year complex for a safety violation days before a holiday party in December.

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The buildings reopened after fire safety repairs were completed, but the owners and the city were later at odds in a protracted and unresolved court case over occupancy permits.

“We finally put them in the right place,” said Ruben Gomez, director of economic development at Paterson. “We have created a win-win situation.”

David Garsia, head of the Great Falls Industrial Park group that owns the site, did not respond to a phone message seeking his input for this story.

Earlier this year, Garsia businesses racked up more than $1 million in property tax arrears for the Art Factory and two other buildings they own in Paterson. But the Garsia groups seem to have solved their financial problems.

The Paterson Art Walk at the Art Factory.

Public records show that Garsia’s group secured a commitment in July for an $8 million mortgage on the Art Factory site and on property it owns on Totowa Avenue.

The city’s Historic Preservation Commission reviewed the plan. After that stage, the application would be presented to Paterson’s planning and zoning boards, officials said.

“We are thrilled,” said Historic Preservation Commission member Kenneth Simpson.

The owners seem determined to maintain the resort’s historic features, such as paved roads and an old spinning wheel, Simpson said. There is talk of setting up a cafe along one of the industrial canals, the man-made canals that used to channel water from the Great Falls to power the mills, Simpson said.

The housing units would be short-term rentals to accommodate business operations at the site, officials said. The Art Factory complex has been used in recent years to film various videos and commercials.

Dozens of art-related businesses have operated in the complex – part of the source of recent controversy. Garsia had argued that a single certificate of occupancy should cover the entire complex, while the city had argued that each business’s space required separate approval.

The first buildings on the site were constructed in the 1840s for the American Hemp Company, which manufactured rope there, according to planning request.

In the 1850s, the Dolphin Manufacturing Company began producing “twisted jute rugs” at the site. Dolphin closed in the late 1950s.

The Art Factory complex is on Spruce Street, almost halfway between the Route 19 off-ramp and the Great Falls. Simpson said a thriving arts complex there would provide a much-needed gateway to Falls National Park.

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