By ERIN ROLL
Montclair High School students have their own ideas on what should become of Lackawanna Plaza.
A town square-like space, with gardens, or a playground for children. Housing units that would incorporate trees, green space, and other sustainable features, and which would have an affordable housing component. A bowling alley, a movie theater, and other places that would encourage more nightlife for the teens.
These were some of the ideas presented by the students, when asked to come up with their own concepts on how Lackawanna Plaza should be developed.
The five groups of students from Montclair High School Business and Entrepreneurial Learning Academy, a joint summer program between Montclair State’s Center for Entrepreneurship, the MIX Lab and Montclair High School, presented their ideas to an audience at the Feliciano School of Business at Montclair State University on July 25.
In May, the planning board approved plans by developers Pinnacle and Hampshire Cos. to build 154 housing units, a 29,000-square-foot supermarket and 111,726 square feet of office retail space at the 7.5-acre site of the former Lackawanna Train Station.
Students were tasked to come up with a list of businesses that would go into the plaza. Some of the hypothetical businesses included a Planet Fitness gym and a Foot Locker. While others suggested adding an urgent care center, citing the long wait times at Mountainside Hospital as a factor.
All of the groups concurred that a grocery store chain needs to be anchor tenant at Lackawanna. Some of the groups had Lidl – the plaza’s real-life would-be tenant – listed as the grocery store in their hypothetical plans. Other groups suggested Super Foodtown or Trader Joe’s. The reasons for those stores included those stores already being a known commodity in the community, or for offering good-quality items at reasonable prices.
In addition, students calculated hypothetical costs of the project, including equity and bank loans, based on the square footage of housing and other factors.
There was no right or wrong answer for what should be done with Lackawanna Plaza, said School of Business faculty member Iain Kerr, who supervised the students’ work over the two-week period.
Mayor Robert Jackson, Kathleen Bennett of the Historic Preservation Commission, and Frank Godlewski, a historic preservationist, attended the presentations.
Lackawanna Plaza has been largely vacant since Pathmark, the plaza’s anchor store, closed in 2015. Since that time, the Fourth Ward has been without a grocery store located within its boundaries, creating a hardship for many of the ward’s residents.
One of the biggest battles has been how to incorporate a grocery store into the development, but still preserve some of Lackawanna’s unique historic and architectural features, including the train sheds. The subject has led to repeated back-and-forth disagreements between the planning board, the Historic Preservation Commission, and the development company.
Regarding the concept of a town square, Bennett said Montclair had actually considered the concept in the early 1900s but it never went forward.
The goal of the presentations was to give the students the tools to work on real-world problems.
“They’re the visionaries here,” Kerr said.
At the end of the presentations, Jackson thanked all of the students for their work and their ideas.
Montclair High School Kevin Richberg worked with the faculty at the School of Business to help coordinate the program.
“When Kevin and I were thinking about this concept, what was most important was not what you think, but that you think,” Jackson said.
The projects will be featured in Montclair Design Week in October.
“The last thing is, Mayor Jackson, is you should hire all of these guys,” Kerr quipped.