News and Updates

30th Anniversary Spotlight: Berg Hat Factory to the Valley Arts District

This year, New Jersey Community Capital celebrates its 30th anniversary. Over the course of three decades, we have made $630 million in loans and investments to create and preserve quality affordable housing while developing opportunities across early child care, education, and economic development. In honor of our work, we are profiling key, transformative projects and initiatives that allow New Jersey Community Capital to have a broader impact in the communities we serve. Below is the first in the series, profiling the former Berg Hat Factory and the new Valley Arts District.

NJCC’s Support for Former Hat Factory Helps Entire Neighborhood Progress

The Berg Hat Factory, a massive 70,000 square foot, three-building complex located on the Orange/West Orange neighborhood borders, along the NJ Transit train line, was once the largest producer of hats in the nation. Twenty-four hours a day workers cranked out hats, to the tune of a million a year.

In its heyday, at the turn of the 20th century, Berg, along with 33 other hat manufacturers, was part of what was known as Hat City, a booming industrial area that was an economic engine supporting families and communities. 

But, by the early 1900’s, the economy began to shift. Berg went out of business, as did the other hat manufacturers and industrial businesses in the area. 

Eventually, Hat City became an industrial ghost town, filled with abandoned factories and boarded buildings. For decades, the area was an eyesore on bordering neighborhoods and the former Berg Hat factory was the biggest, tallest, most grim reminder of the neighborhood's staggering decline. 

Then, in the early 2000’s, New Jersey Community Capital’s (NJCC) President Wayne Meyer, who was then Housing Director at the Orange-based nonprofit HANDS, along with Executive Director Pat Morrissy, began working with local residents and leaders to shape the redevelopment of the area.

Their vision was to turn the former Hat City into the Valley Arts District, a thriving center of culture, arts, economy and people-centered public spaces. The former Berg Hat Factory was at the center of their plan – the catalyst project that would turn the neighborhood around.  

NJCC was key to making the plan a reality, beginning with providing HANDS a loan to acquire the factory. NJCC then shifted to the role of co-developer. Through its nonprofit real estate subsidiary, Community Asset Preservation Corporation (CAPC), NJCC helped HANDS to both find the full financing needed and provide the expertise to facilitate and complete the construction.

In all, NJCC has provided over $10 million in loans for the redevelopment of the formerly derelict industrial area, transforming hundreds of thousands of square feet in dilapidated buildings into flourishing commercial spaces for an estimated 50 artists, artisans and small businesses and homes for low- and moderate-income families.

The investment has paid off: the neighborhood has turned the corner and is on the upswing. New businesses, residents and artists are breathing life back to the recently abandoned streets. Galleries, a cupcake maker, restaurants, and small businesses have begun reviving the local economy. 

With the recent reopening of the former Berg Hat Factory as 32 condominiums and 10 commercial spaces for artists, the Valley Arts District is on the verge of fulfilling the vision forged by Messrs. Meyer and Morrissy, HANDS and the community, that Orange’s potential is rooted in its superb location, its diversity, its people and its rich history. Thanks to its transformative impact, the Berg Hat Factory complex was named a winner of the New Jersey Futures Smart Growth Award.

The former Berg Hat Factory, renamed Hat City Lofts, sits as an example of NJCC’s vision and commitment to investing in people and places and creating thriving communities and a fairer economy.