Published in the Asbury Park Press, Sunday, December 18, 2006
BUILDING ON BEGINNINGS
Restoration of an Asbury landmark nears completion
Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 12/18/06
BY NANCY SHIELDS
COASTAL MONMOUTH BUREAU
ASBURY PARK — Fourteen years ago, merchants in an all but deserted downtown looked at the long-empty Steinbach building and begged that it be torn down.
The historic department store, which closed in 1979 and lost its fifth floor to fire in 1989, filled the triangular block of Cookman and Bangs avenues and Emory Street. By its very size, the looming building cast a shadow of blight on good intentions below.
The owner said no, it would cost too much to raze — at least $500,000. He would wait it out.
The 100,000 square-foot building changed hands at least once more with no development until 2001, when Carter Sackman, the New York City-based restoration developer, bought it for about $1 million. His company, Sackman Enterprises, announced plans for first-floor retail and 63 lofts and apartments for rent on the upper floors.
On Wednesday, a crew of at least 85 was working on all five levels in the final phase of restoration, which Sackman wants to finish by February. He said tenants should be moving in by March.
The first announced tenant is Old Man Rafferty's, the New Brunswick-based restaurant that is scheduled to open a 9,000-square-foot restaurant fronting on Cookman Avenue by Memorial Day. Other retailers will front Cookman and Bangs avenues. The primary residential entrance is on Emory Street.
"It's going to be nice, beautiful," Sackman said of the building restoration in a recent telephone interview. "You really have to do your homework to get everyone satisfied, to get the look, the timetable and any material that might have existed."
Sackman Enterprises is using historic tax credits to help finance the project, estimated in three years to cost about $7 million. One of the requirements of that program is that the apartments stay rentals for at least five years.
"After all these years of having that building dark, having it open really heralds the turning of the corner in downtown Asbury Park," said City Manager Terence Reidy.
He said the city's revival now will reach "people who really haven't been paying attention to Asbury, but who will now hear that 'Oh my God, Steinbach's is open.' "
"Populating that building will be a tipping point in the downtown for foot traffic for shops and restaurants," Reidy added."Then you have Old Man Rafferty's, 9,000 square feet is a big restaurant. You have these two amazing restaurants right across the street — Market in the Middle and the Brickwall. Add Old Man Rafferty's and you have this little restaurant mecca. People will come to eat and they can walk out of the restaurant, walk up Cookman, and go into all those wonderful little shops."
The second, third and fourth floors each have 18 apartments. There are another nine apartments with terraces on the newly-built fifth floor. The apartments throughout the building range in size from a 725-square foot studio to a 1,650-square foot two-bedroom, two-bath apartment.
The average size is 1,000 square feet; the average rent is $1,500 a month, Sackman said. He said his company will start marketing the apartments soon.
The building has two new staircases and an elevator. A large 40-foot by 15-foot atrium rises to a skylight on the fifth floor. The yellow-beige brick masonry of the building was restored. More than 300 windows were replaced following the layout of floor-to-ceiling showcase windows on the second floor. The fourth floor features arched-shaped windows.
Thomas Wilson, the project manager, said the restoration includes the original steel columns throughout the building as well as some solid cedar columns from the 1880s hotel that preceded Steinbach on the block.
"There are characteristics of a building like that that you don't duplicate on newer structures," Wilson said.
Steinbach's first location in the city was a dry goods store at Lake Avenue and Main Street in 1874. The store next moved to Cookman and Main until 1896 when owner John Steinbach bought the old Commercial House hotel at Cookman Avenue and Emory Street.
A new store opened on the site in 1897 and kept expanding until by 1912, Steinbach occupied the entire block.
Before Sackman arrived, Steinbach had stood undeveloped since 1979, shortly after the company opened a new store at Seaview Square Mall, Ocean Township.
Many owners of the new shops and restaurants have looked to a renovated Steinbach building to bring foot traffic.
"We're anxious for it to be completed," said Bill Kessler, one of the owners of Taka Restaurant, Mattison Avenue, which specializes in contemporary Japanese cuisine."It seems like they're doing a first-class job.
"Also, because it's an iconic building, it's a symbol to have it complete," Kessler added. "It's a significant event."
Sackman Enterprises also created 12 new condominiums — nine of which have been sold — in The Bradley, the former Asbury Park Elks Club, and will soon renovate the former PNC Bank building, the city's first post office. Sackman and RDR Properties are renovating the former Asbury Park Press Building on Mattison, close to the Steinbach building.
A warehouse portion of the Press building, which later housed the Malletech instrument company, will be the site of a parking deck for the Steinbach tenants as well as additional condominiums. That parking deck, which will provide parking for other renovated buildings and downtown stores, is in the process of gaining city approvals.
Reidy said he believes the parking spaces the city will soon get in the state parking garage can be used by Steinbach residents until the new parking deck is completed.
Sackman said the renovation of the Press building includes an 8,500-square-foot shared office facility called Sackman Suites. People can rent office space with short-term leases for a couple of months, or for one or two years, he said.
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- Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.