When one thinks of a thriving downtown, fine

dining, bars, chic shops, parks and other

public gathering spots typically come to mind. But what

drives the community to readily partake in these local

offerings? According to Jerome Lombardo, chairman of the

Main Street Business Alliance of Hackensack, New Jersey,

the answer is simple—the arts.

 

“If the arts succeed, we all succeed,” Lombardo notes.

And so, in January of 2016, the city bonded $1.5 million

to cover basic renovation costs for a formerly purchased

building on the corner of Atlantic and State Street, and

plans for the Hackensack PAC, a 224-seat Performing Arts

Center, were born.

 

The Main Street Business Alliance is a public-private

partnership formed as a coalition between the business

community and the city of Hackensack. The mission of

the non-profit organization is to address issues facing the

business community with the ultimate goal of improving the

local economy and overall business climate in Hackensack.

 

Formed in 2004, the group is governed by 11 board

members comprised of businessmen exploring the private

sector to determine the puzzle pieces needed to create and

maintain a bustling downtown area that people want to visit.

“Our vision is to make Hackensack resemble a city like

Hoboken,” says Lombardo, who also serves as the president

of his own real estate management company, C.J. Lombardo.

 

“We have a budget to cater to specific goods and services

in town, such as picking up litter, placing garbage cans

throughout the city, removing graffiti; anything to promote

a better quality of living and business environment for both

local merchants and homeowners.”

 

As part of initial efforts to revitalize the area, the

city purchased the former Masonic Temple at 102 State

Street in 2010, eventually transforming its first level into

a Cultural Arts Center. The adjacent Atlantic Street State

Park was also recently revamped, adding to this historic

structure’s ideal locale. Francis A. Reiner, LLA-PP senior

urban designer of DMR Architects, a top New Jersey

firm dedicated to progressive, innovative and sustainable

architecture, planning and urban design, helped to devise

further plans for this project after coming to a clear

consensus—a Performing Arts Center was the missing piece

to a successful revitalization.

 

“Hackensack has all the components necessary to be a

great city,” explains Reiner. “It is the county seat, has the

two largest employers in Bergen County, is near public

transportation and is located on a river with beautiful parks

and amenities. The arts in general have a profound impact

on the community. This facility will bring the residents

and visitors we’re looking for downtown at night and on

weekends.”

 

With the $1.5 million state-of-the-art theatre conversio n

project now in full swing, the Main Street Business Alliance

is seeking to raise an additional $750,000 to cover

construction costs over the summer so that PAC members

can finally hit the stage in early 2017.

 

In order to reach this goal, the Alliance recognized the

importance of getting the community and local businesses

involved. Just this past May, an inaugural benefit was held

for the new Hackensack PAC, drawing more than 100

attendees to the elegant Sky Ballroom of the Hilton in

Hasbrouck Heights.

 

“We got a tremendous response from both local companies

and private citizens,” says Lombardo. “When people see

something great, they go after it. Everything about the new

Arts Center is spectacular. It’s an interesting place to be, and

interesting is what keeps people coming back.”

 

The event raised nearly $400,000, with many banks and

other local firms pledging generous amounts. All major gifts

will be commemorated on a wall in the new PAC, while those

who donate $350 have the chance to place the name of their

choice on a theatre seat.

 

With these donations, the theatre will feature all new

audio, video and lighting systems, as well as a gallery space,

dressing rooms, a marquee and lobby with a concession

stand, in addition to ample seating and a stage. Gregory

Liosi, superintendent of the Department of Cultural Arts, as

well as artistic director of the present Hackensack Cultural

Arts Center, a small black-box theatre in the southern part

of town, is thrilled by the doors that have opened with this

opportunity.

 

“Programming for the Cultural Arts Center began in

2001,” Liosi notes. “Although it has been home to over a

dozen theatre companies and arts organizations, maintaining

a strong patron base in the community, it is not on Main

Street. The new PAC will build on these loyal patrons,

who have seen hundreds of shows, musicals, plays,

concerts, poetry nights, comedy nights and art

exhibits, and move them to a far larger, more comfortable

facility near all the hustle and bustle of downtown.”

 

Liosi is prepared to continue on as artistic

director for the Hackensack Performing Arts Center,

where both talented community performers and

professionals will regularly deliver shows throughout

the year. The neighboring Atlantic Street State Park

will also offer outdoor events such as Shakespeare

in the Park in its renovated amphitheater.

 

“The PAC members’ excitement and readiness to

move into the new theatre is electrifying and contagious,”

continues Liosi. “We hope to be the hub of the wheel

in the revitalization of downtown.”

 

With the community’s continued dedication and

support, the heartbeat of Hackensack will surely

pick up speed in no time, providing even more life

to the seed that is already planted—a seed that

cultivates the arts, citizens and the entire city of

Hackensack.

 

Megan Montemarano is a freelance writer.

 

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There’s still plenty of time to support this mission! Donations

of any amount are welcome and greatly appreciated.

Please contact Patrice Foresman, executive director of the Main Street

Business Alliance, at 201-498-1690, or email info@uppermain.org to

contribute to the cause.

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