by LINDA MOSS
moss@montclairlocal.news

The redevelopment project adjacent to the Wellmont Theater has been designed to reflect historic buildings on Bloomfield Avenue, and will include large perforated metal panels that will act as screens where images can be projected above a public plaza, an architect told local officials on Monday night.

At its meeting the Township Planning Board got a look at detailed architectural site plans for the Seymour Street Redevelopment Area, an initiative meant to create an arts and entertainment district on Bloomfield Avenue. The redevelopers are Pinnacle Cos. of Montclair, which owns the Wellmont, and Brookfield Properties, a global real estate firm in Manhattan.

Architects Dean Marchetto and Bruce Stieve talked about the thought process behind the design of the two buildings that will be constructed on a 3.5-acre site that is now home to the former Social Security Administration building and STS Tire and Auto, a block on Bloomfield Avenue between Seymour and South Willow streets.

Several board members praised the plans, although there was a debate about the glass corner, described by one member as “the Walmart window,” that is envisioned for one of the buildings. And a representative of the town’s arts community expressed concern about the small gross square footage, just 10,000, that’s being dedicated to the arts.

“We are concerned about that amount of a space,” said Elaine Molinaro, a member of the Montclair Arts Advisory Committee.

That arts space will be located in one of the project’s two buildings; six stories tall, it will have 200 residential units, 232 parking spaces and roughly 30,000 square feet of retail space that will face Bloomfield Avenue and Seymour Street.

“This building needed to feel of Montclair,” Stieve told the board during his testimony.

The second building, seven stories tall, has two stories of office space and five floors of parking.

The redevelopment project’s design has evolved from what was initially a more modern look to “more of a historic or transitional design style,” according to Stieve.

Ultimately the architects took inspiration from several historic structures in Montclair, including the Madison, Crane and Crawford buildings, as well as the Wellmont itself and the building that stands in front of it on Bloomfield Avenue, the Kahn building.

“All of those were things we could use to inform the buildings that we’re proposing,” Stieve said.

The residential building, which stretches from the corner of North Willow Street and Bloomfield Avenue to Seymour Street, has a brick facade and lobby that make it look almost like a hotel, very residential in feel, according to Stieve.

And that mixed-use building will also be topped by a small spire.

The spire is a detail that “punches ... up” the look of the building, Board Vice Chair Jason DeSalvo said.

Three different-color bricks — red Cherokee brick, terracotta and brick similar to that used in the Wellmont — will be incorporated in the overall project.

The garage/office building will have “a loft feel,” Stieve said. But perhaps its most striking feature will be the three large perforated metal panels that will be paced on its exterior. Those panels will angle toward the development’s centerpiece, a 14,000-square-foot public pedestrian plaza on Seymour Street in front of the Wellmont. Imagery can be projected on the four-story-tall metal scrims at night, Stieve told the board.

During a period for comments from the public, Molinaro expressed concern that the 10,000 square feet dedicated to the arts would not be enough space for a so-called “black-box,” or flexible, theater. The rental rates at the Wellmont rival those of Carnegie Hall and are not affordable to local nonprofits, she added.

DeSalvo, who led the meeting, and board member Martin Schwartz complimented Stieve and his firm on their work.

“Overall, I’m very, very impressed,” DeSalvo said.

But he and Schwartz voiced their objection to the glass corner that is part of the design of the residential-retail building. Schwartz called it “the Walmart window,” while DeSalvo said, “I  really don’t like it. This isn’t Madison Avenue.”

Stieve explained that this design element was “an iconic glass corner window that leads you into the pedestrian plaza space,” and a show of hands by the board indicated that most of them were in favor of the feature.

During the meeting DeSalvo said the township had reached a letter of agreement with the developer to construct a parking deck on Glenridge Avenue on the site of the municipal Midtown Parking Lot. That deck is part of the Seymour redevelopment plan.

Monday’s testimony was offered during the second planning board hearing on site plan approval for Seymour Street. The hearing was continued to the board’s next meeting on April 24.