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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the June 13, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
For Trenton’s Historic Buildings, Time is Short
The newly-formed Trenton Preservation Committee would
like you to know that historic buildings, most with high ceilings,
enormous windows, and interesting architectural details, are available
for your business. But they won’t sit and wait forever. Time is taking
a toll on beauties like the Broad Street Bank building, home of Mercer
County’s first elevator and first revolving door, and the Eagle Tavern,
which made it to Trenton before George Washington did.
John Hatch, an architect with West Trenton firm Clarke Caton
Hintz, says hundreds of industrial, commercial, and residential buildings
in Trenton, some of them historically important, others just "charming,
solid and pleasant to be around," are in a spiral of rapid deterioration,
and need to be fixed up and occupied sooner rather than later. The
buildings could contribute mightily toward Trenton’s rise as a destination
for both work and play, as historic structures have in other eastern
cities, including Boston and Baltimore.
With an eye toward saving these irreplaceable buildings, Hatch and
several others have formed the Trenton Preservation Committee. On
Thursday, June 14 the committee hosts a fundraising event, "Building
Our Future on Our Past," at 5 p.m. at the Conduit on 439 South
Broad Street near the Urban Word. Cost: $30. Call 609-989-7944.
The Conduit is a music club that is slated to open in the fall. It
is part of a complex of four historic buildings that are owned by
Hatch and two partners, Roland Pott and David Henderson.
The Urban Word cafe is part of the complex, and four ground floor
retail stores are about to join it. They include a record store, book
store, and an art gallery. The second floor, Hatch says, will soon
be home to 25 artists, who have leased studios and are in the final
stages of fitting them out.
Hatch and his partners have rescued not only the four buildings on
Broad Street, which sit across the street from the Sovereign Bank
Arena, but also 14 homes in the Mill Hill section of the city. And
they have found the work is good business. Space in their Broad Street
buildings was never advertised, yet, Hatch says, is more than 95 percent
leased. Meanwhile, demand is growing for the restored homes. "The
prices of houses in Mill Hill are more than double what we could get
five years ago," Hatch says. "We used to joke, and say `Can
you imagine getting $200,000 for a house?’ And now we do."
Hatch says many other parts of the city are ready to give up profits
to enterprising developers too. He has found that prices for renovation
of commercial buildings runs about $60 a square foot, a figure he
says is half that of new construction. The city owns a number of abandoned
buildings, while others are privately owned.
One issue on which the Trenton Preservation Committee, an arm of the
Trenton Historical Society, is working is the fact that it is easy
for the city to get demolition money from the state, but nearly impossible
for it to get money for rehabilitation. Hatch says the committee is
working with the legislature to make rehabilitation money available.
Hatch, a graduate of Princeton University (Class of 1984), who holds
a master’s degree in architecture from the University of Virginia,
says his childhood contributed to his passion for restoring buildings
and neighborhoods in Trenton. "When I was young, my parents bought
a brownstone in Brooklyn," he says. He recalls the renovation
work, and later, the family’s move to Long Island. "It was country
then," he says of the now-congested New York City appendage. These
early experiences gave him an interest in preserving both the city
and the country.
Working at saving Trenton buildings that could — once again —
be homes and offices and stores, would accomplish both goals. "There’s
a lot of opposition starting against suburban sprawl," he says.
"Trenton has these great buildings, some of them vacant, and an
administration that is encouraging development. Places to live and
do business are ready and waiting, and you don’t need to dig new sewers."
Saving Trenton’s commercial and residential neighborhoods, before
neglect and weather does their buildings in, one by one, would save
suburban fields and woods, too. "These buildings could be, if
properly restored, a huge draw," Hatch says. "The trick is
to get people to see past the cost of fixing them up. You’ve just
got to squint your eyes and think two years down the line."
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