The economy may be down but luxury apartments are going fast in the new Spring Street House in downtown Princeton.
The five-story building at 25 Spring Street is part of the second and final phase of a downtown redevelopment project. The 72,000-square-foot building features retail shops on the first floor and 52 apartments on the next four floors.
“The building is an example of smart-growth thinking,” says Jack Morrison, a managing partner with Nassau HKT, the project developer. “There is a resurgence of people moving back into revitalized downtowns. Princeton didn’t necessarily need to be revitalized but people here did need to consider where they were and where they wanted to see their downtown go.”
The building offers the benefits of being in the heart of downtown Princeton, adjacent to the Princeton Public Library and its plaza, which Morrison calls “a social center” for the downtown.
“The plaza holds a farmer’s market every Thursday in the summer and countless other events during the year,” he says. The building is next to a parking garage and 25-unit apartment building that were both constructed during the first phase of the redevelopment project. The two-phase project was built on borough land — Nassau HKT is paying a 99-year lease for its use. The first phase, completed in early 2005, also included the Spring Street municipal garage, the library plaza, retail space and the Witherspoon Grill, which Morrison owns through J.M. Group.
The borough approved the development, provided the developer included 20 percent of the units as affordable housing. Hence, the Spring Street House offers 42 luxury and 10 affordable apartments. The luxury studio and one-bedroom units lease monthly from $1,950 to $2,500, while two-bedroom units go for up to $3,500.
By comparison, the monthly rents for one-bedroom units in another downtown apartment building owned by Morrison go for $1,200 to $1,800. Monthly rents in the 10 affordable units range from $844 for a studio to $1,044 for a two-bedroom unit.
“The luxury rental prices are new to this area,” Morrison agrees. “This isn’t Hoboken,” he says, where most rents are much higher. “And it isn’t Manhattan,” where rents can easily exceed those at 25 Spring Street. “We are finding there is a market for these luxury apartments here in Princeton.”
The apartments became available in early July, and within a month, all but 12 of the 42 luxury units were leased. Morrison says he expects the remaining units to be leased by September. Tenants were recently selected for all 10 affordable housing units through a lottery organized by the borough.
Dianne Bleacher of N. T. Callaway Real Estate at 4 Nassau Street and Matt Henderson of Henderson Sootheby’s International Realty, 34 Chambers Street, are the brokers for the property.
Elsewhere around town, a one-bedroom apartment measuring 1,000 square feet is likely to rent for somewhere between $1,450 and $1,800 on average, according to Martha Stockton at Stockton Real Estate at 32 Chamber Street.
The higher rents for a building such as Spring Street House, she says, are normal when factoring in things like hardwood floors, granite countertops, and washer/dryer units.
It is the last set of appliances, combined with a dishwasher, that often spells the difference between a $1,500 monthly rent and a $2,500 monthly rent. Such amenities, she says, are fast getting out of reach for the middle class.
“The middle class can stay in Princeton,” she says, “but it’ll have to do without fancy stuff.”
The units include efficiencies with one bathroom (734 to 815 square feet); one-bedrooms with one bathroom (736 to 952 square feet); two-bedrooms with one bathroom (928 to 1,001 square feet); and two-bedrooms with two bathrooms (1,136 to 1,216 square feet).
“The luxury tenants are coming from the pharmaceutical industry, health care workers, doctorate students at Princeton, and even some retirees,” Morrison says.
The complex features a host of amenities, including a concierge service; hardwood flooring; ceramic tile in kitchen and bathrooms; granite countertops in kitchens and cultured marble vanities in bathrooms; washer and dryer in every unit; individual air conditioning and heating units; private elevators serving all five floors; modern steel-frame construction, with sound-deadening concrete floors, insulated walls, and overhead sprinklers; a private courtyard area; a modern fitness center; views of downtown Princeton; parking located directly across the street (residents pay $180 a month for 24-hour parking); and select apartments come with balconies and French doors.
Luxury has its limits, however, when it comes to the balconies. They are not platform balconies added onto the side of the building. Rather, the French doors slide open to a safety gate.
The retail shops, to open in September, include D’Angelo Italian Market, which will move into the 6,000-square-foot retail space at the corner of Spring and Tulane streets; CoolVines, a wine store owned by Princeton Merchants Association President Mark Censits, currently located on the corner of Nassau and Harrison streets; and Pristine Fine Dry Cleaners, a division of Craft Cleaners, a longstanding business at 225 Nassau Street.
One issue that remains to be settled between Nassau HKT and the borough is the status of the fitness center. The original plan, as approved by the borough, called for 53 units and no fitness center. However, Morrison asked to convert the smallest unit (715 square feet) into a modern fitness center. Morrison was expecting borough approval later this month.
There are no plans, however, to turn any units into condos. “This was a public-private partnership,” he says. “The plan was to provide rental units to the community and that’s what we’ve done.”
The development was built on what used to be a municipal parking lot. “The income from the land lease and the taxes will more than double what the borough collected in income from the parking lot,” Morrison says.
“And that’s not including the income from the 500-space parking garage we built in the first phase. I don’t know how much more income we’re providing to the borough but I know they’re happy.”
Minno & Wasko Architects and Planners of Lambertville designed the complex. The firm added a green component to the complex design.
“Solar panels were installed and will provide the energy to light, heat and air condition all the common areas, and even power the trash compactor,” Morrison says.
Morrison, a long-time Princeton resident, grew up in Media, Pennsylvania. His father worked in real estate, and later established a development company. Morrison earned a bachelor’s in mathematics from Wesleyan College in 1973.
A friend persuaded Morrison to work at his seafood retail market, and he discovered he liked the business. Meanwhile, he married, and settled in Princeton.
Morrison and a partner opened Nassau Street Seafood in 1982. He has also opened other establishments, including the Blue Point Grill and the Witherspoon Grill. Morrison became landlord in 1983 and has a passion for real estate.
“My dad was in real estate,” Morrison says. “I can see why he liked it. This has been a challenging but overall good experience — it will benefit the entire borough.”
#b#JM Group#/b#, 256 Nassau Street, Princeton 08540; 609-924-8431; fax, 609-924-5336. Jack Morrison, CEO. www.jmgroupprinceton.com.