“Montclair Cactus” by artist Voyo Woo is among the Fresh Air Montclair art installations now at Lackawanna Plaza. (LAUREN PEACOCK / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)

For Montclair Local 

The new owner of Lackawanna Plaza joined community groups and local officials Monday to unveil new art installations in the space, eventually expected to see redevelopment and a new supermarket.

“We’ve vitalized the empty space and filled it with beauty, art and life,” Fresh Air Montclair, an initiative to bring art to public spaces throughout the township, said in an Instagram post announcing Monday’s event. “Bring your eyes, your presence and admire this landmark and the art that now lives inside!”

That art consisted of window display installations by artists Voyo Woo and Marguerite Kaufer, as well as the GlassRoots studio in Newark. Local officials, property owner David Placek, Fresh Air Montclair representatives, musicians and organizers with the three-day Make Music Day township-wide performance series, and representatives of the Montclair Center Business Improvement District came together to celebrate the installation and cut a ribbon for it.  

Kathryn Mcguire, Clerestory Fine Art owner and Fresh Air Montclair organizer, said the event marked the start of the art initiative’s second season. The effort was originally born out of the pandemic “to bring art and beauty to spaces that felt a little dismal,” she said.

“I think it has done a huge turn around. It’s clear there’s a lot of vibrancy and much more coming,” Mcguire said. 

Nicole Nuzzolo, an intern with Montclair Fresh Air, said the group partnered with Make Music Day and others “since people are finally starting to inch out of the house. We wanted to create a place where everyone could come out to look at art and listen to music.” GlassRoots was on hand as well, demonstrating glass art-making techniques.  

In 2019, the Montclair Township planning board approved plans for the property — the site of the former Lackawanna Terminal rail station — by its former owners that included 154 housing units, 111,726 square feet of office retail space, and a supermarket. It’s in Montclair’s Fourth Ward, which has been without a supermarket since a Pathmark at Lackawanna closed in 2015. 

Local officials joined property owner David Placek (center, with scissors) for a ribbon-cutting as they unveiled new art installations at Lackawanna Plaza Monday, June 21. (LAUREN PEACOCK / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)

But a group of about 200 residents and an advocacy group challenged that approval in court, saying the public’s input was stifled and some testimony and facts were lacking or not presented at all. Among their concerns: Plans for the size of the supermarket changed on the night of the vote. A judge declined to send the proposal back to the planning board, but the residents are asking the judge to reconsider that ruling.

The plan also includes razing the mall, which since the 1980s has encased the Lackawanna Terminal waiting platforms and original stanchions. 

Placek, for his part, has said he still expects to bring in a grocery store, but wants to craft a plan with community input that pays “homage to the history of Lackawanna Terminal.” That could render the 2019 approval moot, but for now, it still stands, and Placek or any future owner could act on it.

Fourth Ward Councilor David Cummings, at the event Monday, said he’s confident Placek will stay on track with his plans for Lackawanna Plaza.

“I’ve known David Placek for around a year and everything he’s said he’s going to do he has done,” Cummings said. “He’s currently actively using this space for events for Montclair’s community. I see progress and I want the Montclair community to know that they will have a seat at the table in any decisions made. Once we get to the next stage, including finding a grocer, everything will be in great shape.”