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A look at a rescued and revived Ward Bakery (in New Jersey)

Given the recent demise of the Ward Bakery in Prospect Heights, demolished by developer Forest City Ratner and with a few fragments turned into art, let's look at the renovation of another Ward Bakery (right), which straddles the border of Newark and East Orange, NJ.

Located in a depressed neighborhood, the building, now known as Bakery Village, was renovated into affordable housing that opened in 1999 .

When I wrote about the project, in March 2007, I cited an Urban Land Institute report that said, “The building, however, required massive, expensive structural improvements and environmental cleanup.”

(Bakery Village photos via Google Maps. Thanks to photographer Jonathan Barkey for the tip.)

Less costly in NJ

Well, "massive" and "expensive" is in the eye of the beholder. A look back at the news coverage suggests that, while it may have seemed costly in the 1990s, it was far less expensive than the sums suggested by the Empire State Development Corporation to renovate the building in Prospect Heights.

A 4/9/96 article in the Newark Star-Ledger, described plans by RPM Development to "pump[...] $11.5 million and new life into East Orange's Ampere section and the old Ward Bakery plant on Fourth Avenue, where thousands of people once worked baking Wonder and Silvercup breads."

(Above photo of Ward Bakery by Adrian Kinloch/Brit in Brooklyn. Below photo by the AY Camera Club, via NoLandGrab holiday card.)

The article stated that the plant, which straddles the Newark border, closed in 1985 and contained hazardous wastes, cleaned up by the state Department of Environmental Protection. The plan was to call the site Bakery Village.

A 7/27/97 Star-Ledger article followed up, describing the neighborhood as "a prime example of urban decay, which began shortly after both companies went out of business." It described the project as having 124 units: 34 one-bedroom apartments, 51 two-bedroom apartments, and 39 three-bedroom apartments.

The building was to have parking for 175 vehicles, an on-site day-care center for 100 children, and 17,000 square feet of retail space.

An 8/10/97 article in the New York Times, headlined Pairing State and U.S. Aid for Low-Income Housing, explained that Bakery Village was awarded $1.49 million in tax credits and a $2.16 million state grant. (I don't know if that's all the funding it got.)

RPM's Edward Martoglio said the tax credits had raised $10 million, "70 percent of the financing for the more than $14 million project."

It only cost $14 million? That's a rounding error in the Atlantic Yards project.

Of course one difference is that the building cost RPM only $100,000, while Forest City Ratner, anticipating the opportunity to build a density exceeding current zoning, bought the bakery as part of a package with another building from Shaya Boymelgreen for $44 million, according to the Brooklyn Paper, a sum more than double what Boymelgreen paid, .

Smart Growth Award

The Bakery Village project won a 2002 Smart Growth Award from smart growth organization New Jersey Future.

The citation honored the RPM Development Group and the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs "for balancing security and community, defining space, creating visual interest, and respecting context in Bakery Village, Newark."

The citation continued:
The Newark-East Orange borderline runs directly through the site of the old Ward Bakery, a neighborhood employer that had closed its doors in 1979 amidst a host of financial and environmental difficulties. But where others saw a dilapidated structure in a decaying neighborhood, Ed Martoglio of RPM Development Group envisioned safe and inexpensive apartments. Mr. Martoglio and RPM, specialists in urban revitalization projects, moved to purchase the property in 1994, and, as the sole bidder, acquired it for $100,000.

Initially, the City of East Orange resisted the transformation of the Bakery into affordable housing, and instead encouraged RPM to develop commercial occupancy. Yet, the location and existing condition of the building frustrated any attempt to attract retail occupants, and ultimately, Mr. Martoglio received approval for a mixed-use plan which would combine 125 rental units with a community center, a day-care facility, and 16,000-square-feet of commercial space. The development company recruited architect Jack Inglese, an experienced designer of affordable housing projects, to insure premium livability, attractive frontage and interiors, and an aesthetic that harmonized the new Bakery Village with the surrounding neighborhood while preserving echoes of the building's industrial history.

However, before renovation could begin, massive structural improvements and cleanup were necessary. The Ward Bakery had been classified as a brownfield site: electrical transformers that had been stored there had leaked PCBs into the concrete. The site conformed to industrial standards of environmental cleanliness, but was deemed unsuitable for residential use. RPM needed to pour two inches of concrete over every floor surface in the entire building, and replace slabs and floorboards that had buckled and decayed. The old Ward Bakery operated 30-foot boilers--it took the construction team a full month to dismantle the apparatus.

The cost of this cleanup and renovation work was substantial, and the RPM Development Group assumed the entire investment for the first two years of the project. Beyond their own financial commitment, Mr. Martoglio sought -- and received -- substantial assistance from state and county agencies. The major financial partners in the renovation of the Ward Bakery are the Balanced Housing Program of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, and the DCA-affiliated New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, an organization that helps fund redevelopment through tax credits. A bridge loan from the Essex County Economic Development Department, a construction loan from Fleet Bank, and a permanent loan from the Thrift Institutions Community Investment Corporation of New Jersey also provided invaluable help in ameliorating the inevitable cost overruns that occur in the implementation of a plan of this scope.

Competition for a share of the state's allocation of ten million dollars in tax credits is fierce--only one out of every four eligible projects receives approval, and criteria for eligibility are strict. Coupled with the solid and enthusiastic support of zoning boards and community affairs organizations in East Orange and Newark, Mr. Martoglio's familiarity with government financing and comfort with the tax credit system won the support of the chairperson of the Mortgage Finance Agency and the Department of Community Affairs. With funding secured, RPM was free to turn attention to the creation of a fully functional and aesthetically satisfying affordable housing project--one that could serve simultaneously as a model for other low-income developments and as a focal point for the revitalization of the surrounding neighborhood.

Walking through the lobbies, hallways, and apartments of the Bakery Village, the fruits of the Martoglio-Inglese partnership are apparent. The handsome foyer, decorated with elegant stained glass windows representing various stages in the building's history, generates a sense of openness as well as a feeling of security, familiarity, and the welcome continuity of neighborhood landmarks. Mr. Inglese has preserved many of the most characteristic and charming features of the Ward Bakery, including the green industrial facades and the terra cotta cornice. The importance of the building to the neighborhood is perpetually reinforced, but the architectural tropes never feel imposing or clinically institutional. The RPM team, committed to environmentally conscious construction, has installed energy-efficient features wherever possible: thermal fiberglass windows, thick insulation, state-of-the-art boilers and electrical networks. Factory-sized windows brighten living quarters, spacious indoor parking increases the desirability of the address. Perhaps most impressively, the Bakery Village offers its low-income residents thorough and rigorous security that never feels intrusive or threatening -- while the building, located in the center of a high-crime area, is carefully monitored through the use of video equipment and identification, there is scant external evidence of surveillance.

In 2005, the Urban Land Institute, a national organization, followed up with an article based on the above citation.