Highland Avenue/Valley Arts District

The 15 blocks adjacent to the station comprise the Valley Arts District. This is the old industrial core of the 40-50 block Valley neighborhood that 100 years ago, was known as the “hat-making capital of the world’. The Valley neighborhood is shared by Orange and West Orange and the 15-block district has been officially declared the Central Valley Redevelopment Area. The Redevelopment Plan calls for 400 new residential units with retail/commercial on the ground floors. The new units would be a combination of new construction and adaptive reuse of some of the remaining manufacturing buildings. In addition, there are two sizeable employers within the Redevelopment Area that will remain and who together employ almost 100 workers. These are Tryco Tool and Manufacturing and Lagniappe Foods.

The economic downturn of 2008-09 called a halt to the planned 400 market-rate housing units, though one or two small projects were developed since then. Owners of the major sites are either waiting for the return of the market or seeking government subsidy for rental projects. The former F. Berg hat factory being developed by the nonprofit HANDS, Inc. will soon begin its redevelopment as 32 “emerging-market” loft condominiums and arts-related commercial space.

Since 2008, HANDS has redeveloped several industrial, commercial or mixed-use properties and created new cultural anchors within the Valley Arts District. They include Luna Stage reparatory theater, Hat City Kitchen restaurant and live music venue, Ironworks young artist center, Firehouse Gallery, the Bakery restaurant and artist studios, The Brass Company galleries, under construction are the Kelli Copeland low-income artist lofts and artist cooperative and The Powerhouse commercial artist spaces.

In 2004, the Valley was approved by the State of New Jersey for Neighborhood Revitalization Tax Credit investment. To date, corporate NRTC investment within the Valley totals $7 million that contributed to the redevelopment of nine arts-related residential and commercial properties.

Public spaces within the Valley Arts District have recently been redesigned through a collaborative process with neighborhood stakeholders and TerraNoble Design, PA. Supported by a grant from Together North Jersey this urban design plan will transform vacant sites, parks, streetscapes as well as creating attractive entrance ways into the Valley Arts District, way-finding signage and bicycle/pedestrian friendly routes.

The current Highland Avenue station building was built in 1917-1918 replacing the original 1905 station building. The station was originally called Orange Valley and was changed to Highland Avenue in 1980. The station building has been closed for at least the past 20 years.

The elevated tracks, their stone embankment and underpasses sit just adjacent to Scotland Road, the area’s major north/south artery and commercial strip. The elevated tracks and embankment effectively cut off the Valley neighborhood from the rest of Orange. The area to the east of the rail line and Scotland Road is mostly residential. The area closest to the station is an apartment zone with 20+ large apartment complexes. To the east and south of the apartment zone are single family residential areas including Seven Oaks, an area with large estate-homes on sizeable lots.

The Valley is home to Metcalf Park, a large, heavily used and recently renovated municipal park with a pool, ball fields, tennis courts and a playground.

The Valley neighborhood has a rich history and a very strong identity. Many of the businesses have Valley in their name. Our Lady of the Valley, a Roman Catholic Church, even though its elementary and high school are no longer part of the parish but rented to other schools.

Small businesses have thrived in the Valley alongside the larger industrial sites and with the emergence of the Valley Arts District artists, artisans, innovators, and nonprofit groups are locating there.

The Valley Arts District contains many abandoned factory buildings (left, above), which can be adapted into galleries or other uses (center, above). Currently, underlit and dangerous underpasses from Scotland Road into the district (right, above) pose a threat to pedestrians.

Places like DUMBO in Brooklyn (above) demonstrate how the physical character of former industrial areas can be leveraged to create unique and vibrant urban districts. 

The diverse mix of active manufacturing facilities, flexible industrial space with plentiful light, high ceilings and high live-load capacity, and the presence of artists has proven to be attractive to the newer generations of tech workers and start-up companies alike. Above: Flavor Paper in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn