By JOHN T. WARD
It’s not just about bringing in Zebu Forno, either. While the popular coffee-slash-bagel-slash pizza spot is relocating to the ground floor from three doors south, a gut-job transformation of office space above has already begun to attract well-heeled tenants that many downtown merchants say they can’t survive without.
The aim, says project manager Nima Nili, is to create a “Soho-meets Red Bank” vibe at 12 Broad Street, next door to Urban Outfitters.
Whole floors have been gutted and reimagined, with exposed-brick walls and spiral ductwork; restored chair-rail moldings; hardwood flooring, and in some places, 11-foot ceilings and uncovered beautiful support columns. Arched windows are being restored.
Much of the design is being guided by Mike Monroe, a prolific architect whose stamp is all over Red Bank: Pazzo, Blue Water Seafood, the new JBJ Soul Kitchen. He’s also overseeing the simultaneous remodeling of office space next door, above the Urban Outfitters store.
The final touches, Monroe says, will be a cleaning of the limestone facade and, pending borough approval, the installation of a metal canopy.
“That will really dress up the building,” says Monroe.
The makeover was necessary, says Nili, who was brought in by his longtime friend Nazmiyal to oversee the renovations. Through a company called Gotham West, Nili has rehabbed buildings in downtown Jersey City and elsewhere.
“You could tell that the building was not getting as much attention as it deserved,” Nili says.
It also represents “a big bet” at a tough economic time. Nili says the overhaul represents an estimated investment of $1.5 million into the property on top of the $4.5 million that former tenant Jason Nazmiyal, who had an imported rug store for 10 years in the space now being taken over by Zebu, paid for the building in 2009.
“It’s absolutely a big bet, but we’ve never been ones to sit back and let the market dictate how we do things,” says Nili. “If we’re not proactive and don’t change the approach of the building to make it work, then it won’t work.”
The makeover affects every inch of the structure except the fifth floor, which was fully remodeled and leased by an oil trading firm before Nazmiyal bought the building.
Nili expects the work to be completed by February 1. But already, the work has attracted tenants, including Monroe’s firm; Global Research Consortium, a Wall Street trading operation; another architectural firm, Gassert Design, which has also contributed to the project; and Pro U, an executive leadership consultancy. A headhunting firm is slated to take a portion of the second floor. The third floor, like all the others at 5,200 square feet, is being marketed as a space for a single tenant.
Noting that former tenants such as photographer Danny Sanchez and the Fred Astaire Dance Studio relocated elsewhere in town, Monroe firm architect Maria Piccolo says, “No one ever leaves, which is good.”
Erected in the 1880s as the Peters Building, 12 Broad later become home to Robert Hance & Sons department store. The Broad Street National Bank took it over in 1920, replacing the entire facade with the limestone and the second-story arched windows, according to Middletown historian Randall Gabrielan .
Various editions of photo history books by Gabrielan refer to remodelings in 1973 and 1996, but Nili says this one is the most thoroughgoing one in close to 90 years.