By Briana Vannozzi
“We have a lot of finished spaces, but we also have some spaces under construction,” Danny Popkin explained.
Popkin has a knack for bringing new life to old places. He’s the brains and creative force behind the Hamilton-based company Modern Recycled Spaces.
“I think of myself as sort of a sculptor. It sounds kind of hokey, but you take these old buildings and they’re these majestic, old factory buildings that are full of old stories and history,” he said.
His mission is to evoke that nostalgia by converting empty warehouses around Central Jersey into commercial office space for businesses, artists and entrepreneurs. The Trenton native has deep roots here and says that he looks to the future by honoring the buildings’ past.
“The entire building was a huge warehouse and it supported train and congoleum and all the local businesses for warehouse use and when they moved out it was vacant and I bought it probably 10 or 12 years ago and originally had one tenant in the whole building,” Popkin said.
Studio Park in Hamilton is now home to more than 30 tenants, and that’s just one of several properties he’s converted.
“So we try to keep all of the old elements, whether it was brick, concrete, steel. We don’t use vinyl sidings or plastics or any of that,” said Popkin.
From exposed duct work to original wooden trusses and 100-year-old brick, the buildings have an artist’s touch with a community advocate’s vision.
“Some people would come in and knock down a building or decide you’re going to come in and create 200 apartment units or a shopping center,” Popkin said. “These buildings, the challenge is that you’re not going to find one big tenant to move in and you never know until the tenant shows up whether they’re going to be 500 square feet or 10,000 feet and what is the use — is it more warehouse, is it more office? What’s the mix?”
The work sparks revitalization in otherwise desolate neighborhoods. None so evident as his Canal Studios property in Lambertville.
“More and more small businesses and artists and just creative community people came and said ‘I want to rent space. I want to be near Rojo’s.’ This is the happening part of town. This is the north end of town that’s waking up,” said J. David Waldman, owner of Rojo’s Roastery.
That’s what he hopes to bring to his next project — the old Ocean Spray factory in historic Bordentown. The warehouse on the 62-acre site will be used for another manufacturer but the rest will be mixed use.
“Bordentown is very concerned and upset that Ocean Spray moved out of town and they lost 300 jobs. We’re gonna take that project — same thing we did at Studio Park — create a revitalization of that building and of the neighborhood and of the town,” he said.
For Popkin and his crew, reshaping a piece of history is an opportunity to create a new one.