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Re: The last of 111 First - Final demolition as tobacco warehouse/artist complex will give way to co
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Posted on: 2007/6/16 18:06

The last of 111 First - Final demolition as tobacco warehouse/artist complex will give way to condos
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The last of 111 First St.

Final demolition as tobacco warehouse/artist complex will give way to condos

Ricardo Kaulessar - Jersey Reporter -- 06/15/2007

As of June 8, what was once an thriving eight-building complex is now just brick and wood-strewn rubble.

The structure, built in 1870 at 111 First St. as the headquarters of the P. Lorillard Tobacco Company, had found new life from 1989 to 2005 as a thriving center for artists to work and live within the cavernous spaces.

Now developer New Gold Equities plans to put in its place a 52-story building with condominiums, a hotel, artists' lofts, a gallery, retail space, and parking.

"It would have been a great cultural center," lamented sculptor and photographer William Rodwell, who used to live in the building, last week. "Instead, power, hypocrisy and lack of vision won the day."

What's planned

Dan Horgan, the attorney for New Gold Equities, did not mince words about the demolition, which began in late November.

"I am glad it is down," Horgan said.

In the last several years, New Gold had begun raising the rents in the buildings, and tenants took them to court. Eventually, New Gold was able to evict the artists and get permission to demolish the buildings, which they said were in danger of falling down.

They took the city to court, saying the city unfairly held up demolition, and eventually agreed to a settlement that allowed them to build higher than is normally allowed in the Powerhouse Arts District.

The settlement was greeted with opposition by many in the art community, who said it would create a "domino effect," allowing bigger buildings in the area.

John Smallwood, vice president for BLDG Management, a subsidiary of New Gold Equities, said that with the demolition finished, they will clean up the debris. But a certain number of bricks have to be preserved as a fa?ade for the tower, as stipulated in the settlement.

He also said that their planned residential project is only in the proposal stage, and it will not go before the Planning Board for at least another year to seek approval.

Also, negotiations are ongoing with a major company to operate the hotel component, he said.

What could have been?

On March 1, 2005, the 70 remaining tenants in the building officially vacated under the terms of an agreement with the owner. Several months of back rent were waived, and New Gold paid $35,000 to the attorneys representing the tenants.

Rodwell, who was considered a leader amongst the tenants fighting to stay in the building, said the eviction sent him away from Jersey City for over a year.

"I vowed never to return, and I moved four times while I was away from Jersey City," Rodwell said. "But I came back to Jersey City and I have been here a year and half. Jersey City is a real good place."

He also found himself coming back to visit the main building, closed up and fenced off, to take pictures of it before the inevitable demolition began in November.

"Strangely, I could feel some kind of emotion, but for me 111 [First St.] died when the last of us left the building," Rodwell said.

His anger remains alive and well toward city government for allowing for the demolition to go through and for not fighting more for the building, which could have been a linchpin of the developing Powerhouse Arts District.

"It was an organic development where one artist worked with another in a community, and it acted as a magnet for people," Rodwell said. "They should simply decommission the arts district, or they could take credit for creating the first arts district that will eventually have nothing to do with art."

Elaine Hansen spent 15 years at 111 First St., in what she called the "longest time she spent living in one place." There, she practiced her art and ran a yoga studio.

"The building was cool, a place where you felt free," Hansen said. "I couldn't believe how upset I was when I went to visit a month and a half ago."

Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at

Posted on: 2007/6/16 13:56

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