In the summer of 2015, the now-demolished Pep Boys auto parts store on Marin Boulevard was transformed into a graffiti installation and week-long event that received acclaim for the unlikely partnership between Green Villain, an art gallery and brokerage in Jersey City, and Forest City Realty Trust.
The concept for the Demolition Exhibition came in August 2014, when Green Villain founder Gregory Edgell approached the manager of Pep Boys to allow local artists to paint the outside of the building. The company surprisingly embraced the idea. The following year, Forest City entered into a joint venture agreement with G&S Investors, bought Pep Boys out of their lease, and announced the building’s demolition to make way for Phase I of Hudson Exchange West.
Edgell and Abe Naparstek, Forest City’s senior vice president for residential development, met after Naparstek encountered one of the artists — Goomba — painting the building. (Goomba told him, “This is Green Villain’s building.”) Recognizing that the graffiti on Pep Boys was curated, Edgell and Naparstek saw an opportunity to work together, leading to the eventual event.
The Demolition Exhibition has since been cataloged by the Google Cultural Institute. While as an art form, graffiti is meant to be temporary, explains Edgell, “What we do at Green Villain is about promoting and archiving the artists we work with and even more so Jersey City as a whole.” The Demolition Exhibition captured Jersey City at a specific moment, just as the development boom reshaped the city.
Since 2015, projects such as The One, Modera Lofts, Cast Iron Lofts, Vantage, and 18 Park have all come online in downtown Jersey City. Each building boasts unique style attributes and amenities — preserved industrial spaces, full-size basketball courts, swimming pools, virtual golf simulators — to entice potential residents. With these new luxury high-rises have come thousands of rental units and reimagined communities, presumably catering to a growing population of transient commuters.
Redevelopment projects that rejigger the concept of a traditional neighborhood while conveniently ignoring existing communities aren’t unprecedented in Jersey City. In the 1980s, Newport revitalized the Hudson Waterfront, during the 1990s, Liberty Harbor began encroaching on historic downtown’s borders, and more recently, Soho West became the new name for a once underdeveloped area “South of Hoboken.”
Once complete, Hudson Exchange West will likely create a new reimagined neighborhood in the heart of downtown Jersey City. Two blocks from the waterfront and adjacent to the Harsimus Cove Light Rail Station, the project’s first building, VYV, opened in October 2017 and now sits on the former Pep Boys site. The entire project is expected to add 12 buildings, a realigned street grid, a one-acre park, and a public plaza to downtown’s landscape. VYV is also the first luxury rental building in downtown Jersey City to mandate an 80/20 mix of market rate and affordable housing, and according to Naparstek, there are no plans for Shop Rite to vacate its lease.
The baseline commitment to incorporate local art into future projects allows Hudson Exchange West to stand out in a crowded real estate market. Naparstek explains that with VYV, Forest City is “thoughtful about having art that ties into our overall brand.” VYV (pronounced vīv) comes from the Latin word “to live”; embracing the phrase “arrive to the unexpected,” “We want to surprise people when they come to the building with the level of quality and attention to detail,” says Naparstek.
This is also done through a continued partnership with Green Villain. “Since the Demolition Exhibition,” Edgell shares, “there has been a good synergy between Forest City/G&S and Green Villain. We are pitching them ideas and vice versa.” The first project with VYV began when Forest City sought to incorporate a sculptural element into VYV’s amenity deck. Edgell connected the development company with Maximilian Pelzmann, a sculptor who is based out of Mana Contemporary. Pelzmann “has a style that we know would complement the interiors and architectural elements of the VYV projects,” says Edgell. The 12’ sculpture, Totem, was airlifted and installed on the amenity deck at the end of 2017.
Elsewhere in VYV, some rooms have remained undesigned since the building came online. “We’ll open the building and as people start to move here, we come up with new ideas and ways to continue to add to it,” explains Naparstek. In the building’s gym, for instance, Forest City is looking to potentially incorporate murals on the walls.
Green Villain’s second project at Hudson Exchange West brings attention to the sidewalk scaffold surrounding the Phase II construction site. The 200’ wide wall features work from 8 graffiti writers — Mast, Nero, Clarence Rich, Distort, Noah, Enue, Rath, and Wane — who also contributed to the Demolition Exhibition. At night, the wall transforms into an illuminated outdoor gallery. “Activating a space with artwork installations gives back to the community” and reduces “visually and sonically the draining process of construction,” says Edgell.
Just last week, the artist Rubin installed an original piece that was printed on high-quality vinyl and affixed to the exterior walls of another sidewalk shed. Plans are also in the works for a small art and music event at the site to take place during summer.
Once Phase II of Hudson Exchange West — like VYV, it will be a 35-story tower — is completed, work from local artists will be incorporated into the building’s final designs. Likewise, Forest City plans to continue working with Green Villain; Naparstek told Jersey Digs, “Greg is a great avenue to tap into the local art scene.” But creating a sense of place, Edgell explains, “is more than just letting Green Villain paint a mural on your building. There are real conversations that can happen long before a construction loan is closed where creativity can anchor a site.”
Watch the after videos: