The ingredients are compelling, to say the least.
There’s a handsome West Side school building built in 1912 with great bones, but nestled in a neighborhood that sorely needs fresh economic and aesthetic blood.
There’s a high-profile architectural firm, one that loves reimagining old buildings in non-traditional ways.
And there are the firm’s two partners, a couple of admitted “Red Bank rah-rahs,” one of then a founding board member and past chairman of RiverCenter.
The mixing has begun.
Michael Simpson and Ed O’Neill, partners in S.O.M.E. Architects, are the driving forces behind PS Five LLC, which last month paid $1.3 million for the Community YMCA admininstration building on Drs. James Parker Boulevard. (PS Five also has two silent partners, Simpson says.) The Y moved 13 staffers to an office building on Tindall Road in Middletown.
redbankgreen broke news of the transaction Jan. 12. Now, we’ve learned that S.O.M.E. will move its nine-person operations to the site later this year.
“I can’t stick any more rats in this maze,” Simpson says of the third-floor walkup space his firm has occupied at 16 Monmouth Street since 1989.
What in particular does the firm have planned?
S.O.M.E. will be taking the top floor for its own use, and will rent out the lower floor, probably as offices, though retail and personal services are also allowed by zoning.
The new location will give the firm an opportunity to do it up big and use its workspace as a showcase for it’s talents.
“We would be doing everyone, especially ourselves, a disservice if we didn’t,” says Simpson, who lives in Tinton Falls. “We want to be able to show our best face to potential clients.”
More broadly, the purchase gives Simpson and O’Neill an opportunity to liven up a gateway property with for-profit activity and possibly spark me-too development in a neighborhood that halted a long economic decline but has so far shown only hints of upward momentum.
Simpson isn’t daunted by the vacant storefronts along Drs. Parker and the rental housing, some of it owned by absentee landlords who apparently don’t have much impetus to maintain, let alone improve their properties.
“That’s just a function of time and interest,” he says. “We see it as being a logical place (to invest). It’s always been a busy street. It’s had a history of questionable establishments, shall we say, but that’s all gone away, either as a result of market forces or municipal action or people wanting to bootstrap the area.
“We think it’s a good time to bootstrap it,” he says. “We really believe in Red Bank as an entire place, not just the downtown. We see that building as important stuff on the West Side.”
Simpson says he’s cognizant of the risk, but doesn’t think of himself and O’Neill as pioneers. Though some attempts to create consumer businesses at one or two addresses have failed, recent years have also seen the construction of Bergen Square, a 20-unit housing complex, and a facelift at the B&C Custom Wood Stairs & Rail factory.
“The guys who did 10 West Bergen (a former beer distributorship redesigned by Joseph R. Peters in the late ’80s) â?? that took some chutzpah, especially considering that nobody was thinking about that side of the railroad tracks at all,” Simpson says.
S.O.M.E. (which stands for ‘Simpson O’Neill Michael & Edward,’ though the ‘M’ and ‘E’ were actually reserved for prospective partners who didn’t join the firm) was part of the team that worked on the 1990 Master Plan.
Among the firm’s jobs in recent years have been the Y’s Children’s Cultural Center (known as Diney’s Place) on Monmouth Street, in the former Borough Hall/Police Headquarters building; the Parker Clinic on Shrewsbury Avenue; and Red restaurant, Broad Street Exchange and Reussilles’ Jewelers, all on Broad Street.
At the moment, the firm is overseeing the redesign of the Downtown Cafe, which is owned by Red’s principals.