Star-Ledger's old Newark HQ is turning into an art warehouse

By Steve Strunsky | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on September 10, 2016

NEWARK —  The vast expanse of well-worn carpeting has been replaced by a shiny, white epoxy finish, and the drop-ceiling has been removed to create more space overhead, exposing the steel support girders, now freshly painted.

Those and many other changes to the building that once housed The Star Ledger newsroom and business offices give the big, wide open areas the eager, if still-unfinished look of a new box store waiting to be stocked.

And stocked it will be, but not with the toys, clothes or patio furniture of a Walmart or Target. Rather, the space is being remade into an energy efficient, climate-controlled and hushed warehouse for works of art.

Manhattan-based Crozier Fine Arts, which stores, maintains and transports paintings and sculpture around the world, bought the building in June 2015 for $7.5 million from Maddd Equities of Floral Park, N.Y., the real estate firm that had purchased it from The Star-Ledger's owner, Advance Publications, a year earlier for an undisclosed sum. 

The 177,000-square-foot grey brick building at the corner of Washington and Court streets, was the newspaper's headquarters and main location from 1966 to 2014.

(The Star-Ledger remains New Jersey's largest-circulation newspaper. The Star-Ledger still maintains a presence in downtown Newark, at the Gateway Plaza complex near Penn Station. The newspaper's publisher, other executives and some editorial employees work in that location.)

Crozier is now spending another $10 million to $12 million to knock out old walls and erect new ones, revamp the air circulation system and surfaces, and otherwise remake the building to suit its needs. It will be Crozier's third facility in New Jersey, after two other Newark locations, on Johnson Avenue and Irvine Turner Boulevard.

"We want to make it as secure and air-tight a facility as possible," said James Pantoleon, Crozier's director of facility maintenance and engineering. "We have custom climate control systems we install in the spaces. We maintain 70 degrees and 50 percent relative humidity. And we do it with very little real energy."

People and portraits are not the same, and it's more demanding to accommodate a large workforce than a large collection.

"The building was constructed to house 1,200 people and keep them comfortable. Art storage is a different concept in itself," Pantoleon added. "We don't bring in a lot of outside air. Whereas for people you need a lot of oxygen, we don't want a lot of oxygen in our air." (Oxygen degrades a variety of materials, and is unwelcome in many storage environments.)

Crozier said about 50 people will work in the facility once it's fully operational later this fall. And it's that modest human traffic and occupancy that will allow the building to remain at a constant temperature and humidity with little effort by the heating and air conditioning system, Pantoleon explained, because there will be relatively little walking — or breathing — in and out.

Mayor Ras Baraka welcomed Crozier's reuse of the building, noting it will provide employment including entry-level jobs, as well as tax revenues.

"It's great," Baraka said. "It actually speaks to whats going on in the city of Newark in bringing in terms of warehousing and manufacturing."   

Crozier's clients include artists, galleries, museums, private collectors and others who need their valuable works stored in a secure place, under precise atmospheric conditions, and handled with the utmost care.

Newark was an ideal location for the company, located just 5 miles west of Manhattan, the world's main intersection of art and commerce, and with easy access to several major highways and Newark Liberty International Airport.

"It takes me 22 minutes from Chelsea to get here," on the PATH train, Pantoleon said, referring to the Manhattan neighborhood where Crozier's headquarters are located.

The Newark building's size, its large, open spaces, high ceilings and its availability for immediate occupancy, made the old Star-Ledger building attractive to the company.  
In addition to its larger storage areas, the facility will include smaller spaces that can be leased and controlled by individual galleries or artists, doubling as viewing areas to show pieces to potential buyers.

A bar-code system will track every work that enters the building, allowing it to be retrieved in a matter or minutes.

Crozier declined to identify any recognizable artists or institutions among its clients, citing confidentiality agreements. Company officials said they could not provide even a range of dollar values for individual pieces they store, because their clients don't tell them. 

Like Observer Highway in Hoboken or Journal Square in Jersey City, the newspaper's name will outlast its physical presence on the spot. The address of the building, at the intersection of Court and Washington streets, a few blocks from City Hall and the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Courthouse, will continue to be 1 Star-Ledger Plaza, said Simon Hornby, Crozier's president and CEO.

"Star-Ledger Plaza holds a special place in the heart of Newark, and we want to maintain that," said Hornby, the Louisiana-born son of Britains whose dual citizenship and posh accent reflect the international art world he trades in.
 
Hornby said Crozier makes a point of hiring locally. Apart from corporate public relations, he said, it's simply good business to have your workforce handy. 

Many employees are artists themselves. Andrew Deock, a Newark native who is director of storage operations in New Jersey, is a painter. Shoshanna Weinberger, Crozier's director of administrative operations, is a multi-media artists with pieces in the permanent collection of the Newark Museum. 

"There's an affinity for the product their dealing with," Hornby said.
   
Angel Rodriguez and Ralph Austin are both local hires, Newark natives who still live in the city. The two were installing electrical lines in the old newsroom, a space Crozier people have dubbed, "the loft," because it will be filled with stacks of oil paintings, lithographs, silk screens and other works. 

"It's exciting," Austin, 32, a Star-Ledger reader, told a reporter. "It's a big transformation, going from being used for news to a big art site. It's interesting. And fun for me. I enjoy it."

"It's pretty interesting, the history here," added Rodriquez, 31, who also reads the Ledger. "We found some old papers from you guys."

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