For the first time in years, there is a positive vibe coming from the Monroe Center in western Hoboken, and the artists and small business owners in the building say it’s because of the new ownership group led by Hershy Weiss of Basad Realty in North Bergen.
“There’s been more improvements in the last few months than there’s been in the entire six years I’ve been here,” said Craig Dale, a photographer whose studio is there.
The Monroe Center is one of the few remaining havens for artists and small businesses in the city, containing loft spaces and large windows, allowing for sunlight to penetrate into the studios. Weiss wants to incorporate more unique businesses while maintaining the artist presence so that the Monroe Center is a destination for the community.
“We’re not here to turn this building into condos.’ – Hershy Weiss
“I passed this building everyday and would look at it and admire it,” Weiss said last week in an interview in his new Monroe Center office. “When I found out it was in trouble, I put together a group of investors and bought [the building] from the bank.”
Weiss began his ownership position in July, and immediately redesigned the lobby of the building.
“The lobby sets the tone and the character of the building,” Weiss said.
He said in the future, there will be a new lobby to the building, Weiss said, but he wanted to make quicker changes to the formerly empty, white walled entrance room.
“I wanted people to see action,” he said. “We’re not here to turn this building into condos or an office building – we’re going to preserve it and actively promote the use of the building as an artists’ space.”
Dale said that tenants originally had concerns when the building was sold.
“There were rumors flying around about what the new ownership group would do,” Dale said. “But Hershy was good. He talked to everyone in the building….He knows how to run a building and how to make things happen.”
Weiss said that he spent a lot of time talking to tenants about what has worked in the past and where things may have gone wrong, so he could help mold a new business plan.
“I’m trying to earn the trust and confidence of the tenants,” Weiss said. “They have every right to be skeptical of a new owner coming in to a place where they’ve been for years but I’m reassuring them that I’m in this for the long run.”
Weiss said this project is much different than his other real estate transactions.
“I wouldn’t be in this if it was purely a business transaction,” he said. “It’s a labor of love, and hopefully that translates into a very profitable real estate deal.”
Changes to come
So what exactly will change in the Monroe Center? The group announced major renovations in a press release distributed in October.
The renovations will include upgrades to the lobbies, elevators, and infrastructure as well as façade improvements. The new ownership plans to create public art exhibition space featuring rotating works of in-house artists and outside talent, as well as common areas for artists to collaborate with one another with the future vision of creating a larger artisan village.
The property’s existing theater is expected to be renovated to include new lighting and sound systems, and the house occupancy will be nearly doubled, allowing for a wider variety of performances, according to the release.
“We’ve been doing a lot of things but it is not very noticeable yet,” Weiss said. “We’ve done a lot on the infrastructure, and put a lot of money into the mechanical systems, elevators, but we’re going to start doing work that’s noticeable soon.”
But for some tenants, the changes that seem small to Weiss are turning out to have a bigger impact.
“There’s a physical change with a lot of quality-of-life things,” Dale said. “There’s locks on doors, the garbage is emptied, the weeds are cut down in front of the building.”
Weiss said he hopes that businesses “that add to the character of the Monroe Center” will open up shop in the building.
One business in the Monroe Center is the Mile Square Theatre, run by Chris O’Connor.
“I’m excited to work with [Weiss],” he said. “There were a lot of resources put into the Hoboken Artists’ Studio Tour. Hershy is embracing everything that’s going on.”
The annual Artists’ Studio Tour, co-sponsored by the Hoboken Reporter, among others, invited guests to view studios and artwork in the Monroe Center last weekend. More than 140 artists took part in the tour.
While the east side of the city is primarily developed, Weiss said he hopes the Monroe Center becomes a landmark “destination” for the west side of Hoboken. The city is planning redevelopment studies for the west side of town.
“I have no doubt that this side of town will be developed, and when it does, we will benefit,” he said.
The Monroe Center is even the filming location for a new show, The Glam Fairy, which is a spinoff of the reality show Jerseylicious.
Weiss said the main challenge as a new owner is losing the perception of the past, when a bankruptcy angered community vendors and left tenants’ needs unmet.
For more information about the Monroe Center, visit MonroeCenter.com.
Ray Smith may be reached at RSmith@hudsonreporter.com