Art All Night and the Punk Rock Flea Market have attracted tens of thousands of visitors to the Roebling Wire Works, a cavernous old industrial building in the heart of South Trenton. Revitalization experts say that events that draw people into the city are a key to attracting new businesses and residents to Trenton. And these events show that currently, the arts are the city’s biggest tourist draw. Revitalization plans by the city and by nonprofit groups all highlight the importance of arts and culture in the economy of the city.
The artistic community will receive another boost next month when Mercer County Community College opens a new downtown arts center. Mercer County Community College’s downtown Trenton Hall — located at 137 North Broad Street and across from the James Kerney Campus — officially opens on Wednesday, April 12.
The April 12 dedication ceremony will be preceded by an 11:30 a.m. “Moving Forward Bus Tour of Trenton Development.” Sponsored by the organization Greater Trenton, the tour leaves from Trenton Hall and stops at Thomas Edison State University’s recently completed Glen Cairn Hall on West State Street, Roebling Lofts at the former Roebling Steel Factory, and the new New Jersey Realtors headquarters on South Broad Street.
Included in the ceremonies is a 12:30 p.m. ribbon cutting and dedication that officially opens the building designed by Trenton architects Clarke Caton Hintz.
Scheduled at 1 p.m. is the dedication of a gift painting for permanent display by Mel Leipzig. The painting — “Fashion Design, MCCC, Trenton Campus” — depicts one of the first fashion classes held in the then-unfinished building. In addition to being a nationally known artist, the 81-year-old Trenton-based Leipzig was an MCCC art instructor for 45 years, retiring in 2013.
At 1:15 p.m., the college hosts a Trenton Hall open house featuring tours, demonstrations, and refreshments provided by MCCC’s Career Training Institute.
A series of art-related events start at 4 p.m. with Leipzig conducting a talk about his painting and work in the building’s Community Hall.
Following at 5 p.m. is the opening of New Jersey photographer Wendel White’s “School for the Colored” in the new Gallery at the James Kerney Campus — one specializing in photography exhibitions.
The photographs depict buildings and landscapes associated with the system of racially segregated schools established at the southern boundaries of the northern United States and represent the duality of racial distinction within American culture, says White, who will conduct a gallery tour at 6:30 p.m.
All of this tourism boosting may be having the desired effect of bringing more businesses to the city. One of the recent arrivals is a cafe that, like many downtown businesses, caters to the State House and its schedule.
In 2016 128 West State Cafe opened across the street from the State House amid other familiar landmarks. The New Jersey Business and Industry Association, Thomas Edison State University, and New Jersey’s World War II memorial are neighbors.
The roots of the 128 Cafe is not typical. It was started by principals from Princeton Public Affairs Group, a top-earning contract lobbying firm on West State Street that has been in business for 30 years. Among them is PPAG partner Dale Florio, former chair of the Somerset County Republican Party.
“There are a bunch of people at PPAG, but there are also a lot of outside investors,” Florio says of the restaurant’s ownership. The site housed a copy center business at one time before PPAG bought it.
“We’ve had other people rent the building from us over the years. It was a retail space that didn’t really lend itself to other offices. So it was vacant for 12 years. From the beginning we thought it would be perfect for a coffee shop because there really is no other place to go.
“So finally we said, ‘We’re not getting any younger.’”