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Pajama Factory to build rooftop restaurant, more with state grant

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette

The Pajama Factory, a city-based creative incubator used by the artistic community, recently received a $2 million state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant for additional proposed construction.

Owner Mark Winkelman proposes up to a $4.5 million repurposing of the factory at 1307 Park Ave. with a restaurant, which will have rooftop dining, additional paved parking spaces, lofts for work/living and a rain garden to help with stormwater runoff.

Over the past decade or so, the factory has provided work space for artists in a variety of formats. There is also a small coffee shop at the lower level, Way Cool Beans — a gathering spot to have a cup of java and chat with some friends or listen to music. Winkelman said the restaurant will have a similar “vibe.”

The grant was awarded by the State Office of Budget as a way to repurpose the facility into more of a mixed-use approach.

He would like to see initial construction begin in winter. For tax credit purposes, the project is to be done in two years.

“I believe that one of the reasons the Pajama Factory was selected is because we have consistently expressed a vision for broad economic development with the Factory playing a central and driving role in that vision,” Winkelman said.

He said the factory has “proven the concept,” as a creative space for artists, but is hopefully going to offer additional reasons for visiting with a restaurant and more shops.

He acknowledged the plan as “ambitious,” but has been restoring historic properties for years in New York City.

Today, the factory has 130 spaces rented.

“We see it as an economic driver for development for its west side neighborhood and the city as a whole,” he said.

“We are known as an arts building — we like that — but the great majority of space is actually rented to small businesses,” he said.

Encompassing 300,000 square feet, the eight-building complex has a rich history in the city as a factory.

Winkelman’s vision was to reuse it to create a destination, benefiting the city and region.

It was built between 1883 and 1919 by the Lycoming Rubber Co., a subsidiary of the U.S. Rubber Co.– then one of the largest manufacturers of rubber goods in the nation.

The Lycoming division made tennis shoes, the KEDS brand sneakers, gym and yachting shoes, as well as some miscellaneous rubber-related products.

After 1932, the rubber company moved out due to a decline in product demand. The Weldon Pajama Co. also leased space in the building beginning in 1934 and purchased the entire complex in 1951.

It became the largest pajama factory in the world. The factory was scouted and used as a model for the 1950s Broadway musical — and later the movie — “The Pajama Game,” starring the late Doris Day.

“Of course, people are creating art which is part of the culture,” Winkelman said. The factory has about 70 artists in one medium or another.

“We have quite a few painters, photographers and sculptors,” he said.

The antique windows spread the light around perfectly for such mediums, he noted.

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