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ORANGE, NJ-Local officials have approved a plan to turn a long-vacant hat factory into a mixture of apartments, artist lofts and retail space. A price tag of $8.1 million has been placed on the project, which will turn the late-1800s F. Berg Co. plant into the mixed-use Valley Renaissance Center.

That approval has been given to a non-profit group called Hands Inc. The group is expected to bring in a private developer to execute the project, which is shaping up as a combination of 16 market-rate duplexes and 13 single-level lofts, plus artist work studios and a ground-floor retail component. Occupancy is slated for the middle of 2006.

Located adjacent to a NJ Transit rail line, the project has gotten some early financial support from the Newark-based Local Initiative Support Corp., the Trenton-based firm of New Jersey Community Capital, the Baltimore-based Neighborhood Investment Corp. and PNC Bank. According to Patrick Morrissey, executive director of Hands, the bulk of the funding will come from a state agency and another bank, both of which he declined to identify.

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