Even as the Trenton Museum showcases its exhibit on the history of the Roebling family (see page 28 of this issue), the last of the Roebling mansions in Trenton is looking for tenants – business tenants. The Tudor Revival building at 222 West State Street, across the street from the state house, is being restored, and a modern addition is under construction. The owner: the New Jersey State League of Municipalities. It put together deals from the city and the state to make it happen and will lease 8,000 of the building’s 17,500 square feet. Occupancy: by the end of the year.
The accomplishments of the Roeblings, builders of the Brooklyn Bridge, are legendary, and the building itself is a linchpin to the architectural health of the state house district, the preservationists say. A grant from the New Jersey Historic Trust helped the 90-year-old League restore the main part of the mansion. "The League’s CEO, William Dressel Jr., understood that preserving the building is an important contribution to the economic vitality of the city," says Anne LaBate of Segal Commercial, who is in charge of leasing the space.
Dressel also needed to stay in the center of the statehouse district, where his organization is currently based at 407 West State Street. "Our membership expects us to be prominently in the mix of policy discussions affecting New Jersey municipalities, and this location is key," says Dressel.
"Had we taken this building down, it would have been a blow to the integrity of the block," says Harry Levine, president of Carodan Corporation, the commercial development and advisory group that is managing the project.
Levine is a Yale graduate, Class of 1968, who earned his MBA at the University of Chicago and opened this firm in 1983. He owns and develops commercial real estate, one project at a time, sometimes for his own portfolio, sometimes for a client, and he just retired as president of the board of the Princeton Public Library, for which he led the campaign to raise $12 million for the new building and $4 million for the endowment.
"The building had been through a pretty sad history of continual decay," says Levine. The city had condemned it. "When the League took title from the City of Trenton the place was an absolute disaster. The roof and walls were barely holding up. The interior had decayed almost to the point beyond recognition."
Thomas Edison State College was interested in restoring the building, but the cost of doing that was too much for a state agency to manage, says Levine. Then the League of Municipalities appeared on the scene. "The League said it would make a good effort to preserve the building if it could extend behind the original site," says Levine. The mansion itself is 5,000 square feet, and the three-story expansion is adding 15,000 feet.
"In order to make the deal work economically – restorations of this sort are very expensive – the city sold it at a reduced price and also provided payment in lieu of taxes for the next 20 years," says Levine. "The tax cut is not dramatic, but it is fixed so we can tell the tenants what the tax will be for the next 15 to 20 years." In return, the League pledged to pay taxes on the space it occupies and to keep the building entirely on the tax rolls.
Meanwhile the New Jersey Economic Development Authority weighed in with a reduced mortgage and Wachovia Bank came up with a special program, the New Market Tax Credit, which offers a discounted rate. "A whole bunch of folks are working on this project to make it happen," says Levine. Clarke Caton Hintz and the Swedesboro-based contractors, Merrell & Garguso, are well-known restoration specialists, he says. "When it is all done it will be a real gem."
"The one-story library had been a beautiful space but was too far gone," says John Hatch, an architect with Clarke Caton Hintz. "Portions of the first floor we are reconstructing, re-installing wood paneling, beautiful wood plaster moldings, original mantelpieces. The rest of the building will be a pleasant and completely modern office building, a combination of a wonderful historic exterior and an interesting association with Roebling, plus the office addition. The League shows a real commitment to Trenton and smart growth."
If this is the last Roebling mansion left standing, what happened to the others? Three of them have been demolished. John Roebling, the engineer who designed the Brooklyn Bridge, had a mansion that has been subsumed by the Mercer County offices on South Broad Street. His sons, Charles and Washington, had houses across the street, one on the site of the statehouse annex and the other on the museum site.
Another son, Ferdinand W. Roebling (1842-1917), bought the mansion at 222 West State Street from the Stockton family at the end of the 19th century. (The Richard Stocktons are known in Princeton as builders of Morven.)
Ferdinand W. Roebling Jr. (1878-1936) was at one time president of the steel company, says his grandson, William S. "Bill" Roebling, as was the late Ferdinand W. Roebling III, who worked for the company for 20 years, until it was sold in 1952. Bill Roebling is an investment counselor who lives in Pennington (Roebling Asset Management, 609-683-9101). "My father was born there," he says. "They lived there until the early 1950s, and my grandmother moved to the corner of Calhoun and West State Street."
Roebling points out that the steel company side of the family (John and the Ferdinands) has nothing to do with the bankers, Siegfried and Mary Roebling. Mary Roebling is known as the banker who, when her husband died in 1936, continued his work. She died in 1994.
LaBate, who is leasing the building, says the rentable space could accommodate solo professionals in need of as little as one office, up to mid-sized suites. Tenants may use the building’s board room and conference room. The up-to-date systems include broadband internet access via a T-1 line, electronic security systems, and 24-hour access. A landscaped plaza area overlooks State Street, and there are two parking lots.
LaBate notes that the statehouse district "provides a concentration of leading trade associations, law firms and lobbyists that is unique in the state. In the environs of State Street, chance encounters can prove every bit as valuable as a scheduled meeting. A stroll for lunch or late afternoon coffee is likely to result in a quick conversation, a bit of new information and quite often, a new connection."
Architect Hatch, a graduate of Princeton University (Class of 1984) with a master’s degree in architecture from the University of Virginia, grew up in a restored brownstone in Brooklyn and says this gave him an interest in preserving both the city and the country. Trenton’s commercial buildings can contribute mightily toward Trenton’s rise as a destination for both work and play, as historic structures have in other cities, including Boston and Baltimore.
"Trenton has these great buildings, some of them vacant, and an administration that is encouraging development," he says. "Places to live and do business are ready and waiting, and you don’t need to dig new sewers."
"The trick is to get people to see past the cost of fixing them up," says Hatch. "You’ve just got to squint your eyes and think two years down the line."
New Jersey State League of Municipalities, 407 West State Street, Trenton 08618-5617; 609-695-3481; fax, 609-695-0151. William Dressel Jr., executive director. www.njslom.org
Segal Commercial Real Estate, 1545 Lamberton Road, Trenton 08611; 609-394-7557; fax, 609-394-6894. Charles S. Segal, president. www.segalinc.com
Journal Register Leaves Trenton
The Journal Register Company (NYSE: JRC), owner of 27 daily newspapers, including the Trentonian and the New Haven Register, and 365 non-daily publications, has moved its corporate headquarters from Trenton to Yardley, PA. The publisher had been located at 50 West State Street for 16 years.
While a number of the Journal Register’s newspapers date back to the third quarter of the 19th century, the company has recently been trumpeting its websites. In the announcement of its move, the publisher stated that it "currently operates 222 individual websites that are affiliated with the company’s daily newspapers, non-daily publications, and its recently acquired network of employment websites."
While its earnings for the quarter ended June 30 were down on declining print sales revenue, its online ad sales, including classified advertisements in JobsInTheUS, a network of seven New England-based employment websites, were up by 37.2 percent.
The Journal Register’s new offices are located off Interstate I-95 at 790 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. The main telephone number is 215-504-4200.
NRG Energy Inc. (NRG), 211 Carnegie Center, Princeton 08540-6213; 609-524-4500; fax, 609-524-4501. David Crane, president and CEO. Home page: www.nrgenergy.com
NRG Energy Inc. bought its first wind-farm developer, Padoma Wind Power, in July. Padoma has developed, financed, built and operated more than 40 wind farms in the United States and Europe. It will stay in La Jolla, California, and operate as a subsidiary of NRG. Terms of the cash deal were not disclosed.
Sarnoff Corporation, 201 Washington Road, Box 5300, Princeton 08543-5300; 609-734-2000; fax, 609-734-2040. Satyam Cherukuri, president & CEO. www.sarnoff.com
Sarnoff Imaging Systems has signed a multimillion dollar contract with a flat-panel display manufacturer to supply high-performance imaging subassemblies. The client and the amount were not disclosed.
It also renewed a $12 million contract for its emulation products and technology division, which provides microcircuits for equipment used by branches of the U.S. military, including more than 8,000 microcircuits for the Bradley Fighting Vehicles turret control system.
Virginia Ritter, 40, on July 27. She was the office manager of Capital Title on Nami Lane.