Luciano’s among best of ’08

Luciano’s Italian Ristorante and Lounge, which opened in January, was chosen among 11 of the state’s best restaurants of 2008 by The Star-Ledger last week:

“No jackets are required, but Luciano’s, a cavernous Tuscan-style restaurant, evokes a more genteel time. Not a mediocre dish on the table. Menu includes many standards — fried zucchini, mozzarella and roast peppers, veal saltimbocca. A great place to bring family for a good white-tablecloth meal at reasonable prices. Desserts, too, are made with care.”

Our last visit, for dinner just before Thanksgiving, was definitely a thumbs up — nice appetizer, great entree (Ahi Tuna) and good service. The chunks of blue cheese in the martini were a surprise; E for effort on trying to be distinctive, but I could do without it.

New timeline for Park Square: March ’09

A Transit Village Update in the latest edition of “Transit-Friendly Development” makes mention of several mixed-use projects in Rahway, including Park Square, where “occupancy is scheduled for early 2009.”

Eric Harvitt, a principal with Keasbey-based Landmark Companies, confirmed that they’re aiming for March for occupancy in the first of the 159 rental units in the four-story buildings. You’ll recall that at one point occupancy was expected by the fall. Harvitt attributed the revised timeline to “typical construction delays and maybe too aggressive a projection.”

Transit-Friendly Development is a newsletter by NJ Transit and the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University.

Cuppy’s? Cuppy’s? Bueller?

Back in June, Cuppy’s signed a lease for one of the first retail spaces at Carriage City Plaza. At the time, its Web site touted locations “coming soon” to East Brunswick, Phillipsburg and Whippany. Earlier this week, when I checked their Web site, they were down to zero locations “coming soon” in New Jersey. Last night, they were just down. Trying to get to the site, I was greeted with a “Page Load Error.” Not sure if that’s temporary but fear not, the Cuppy’s MySpace page is still active (although he hasn’t logged in since September).

A quick Web search reveals quite a bit of info about Cuppy’s, some of it dating back well over a year. And not much of it good, if it’s accurate, especially if you consider the Web sites are called Ripoff Report and Unhappy Franchisee. Here’s some franchise info, which indicates required liquid capital of $100,000 and net worth of $50,000. The complaints pre-date a change in ownership this past May.

It’s not all bad news though. Apparently, Cuppy’s can make it in South Africa, Mechanicsburg, Pa. and Wilmington, N.C., among others.

NEA study: audience declines, revenues fluctuate

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) issued a report this week (.pdf) that indicates the number of nonprofit theaters doubled between 1990 and 2005.

The growth was mainly in “previously underserved” areas like Nevada, Colorado and Utah. But the takeaway, at least one that might be more relevant to Rahway and the Union County Arts Center, is “…the absolute size of the audience has declined by 16 percent.” During that same time period, “revenues fluctuated sharply with business cycles in the U.S. economy.” Here’s the Star-Ledger’s take on it.

In this economy, the arts will be in for a tough time, if they’re not already. Not good news for UCPAC (or any local theaters for that matter), which has consistently run deficits of five and six figures in four of the past five years, according to its federal tax filings. The only time recently that it broke even was 2006 when it got a $1.3-million infusion thanks to selling the building as part of Union County’s $6-million renovations.

New station stairs coming

After a few recent reader comments and emails, I inquired about the stairs, or lack thereof, on the East Milton Avenue/New York-bound side of the Train Station platform.

The photo at left was taken in June, before demolition of the stairs.

A spokesman for NJ Transit offered this: “The middle tier of the stairway is being replaced due to corrosion from anti-icing agents. Demolition is complete and reconstruction is expected to be completed within next several months. Cost is about $100,000.”

The Rahway Train Station underwent a $16-million renovation in 2002.

Retail/residential project at St. Georges and Plainfield avenues

A two-story retail residential project next to the Quick Chek on St. Georges Avenue is expected to be completed by late spring. Work began early last month.

The project, at the corner of Plainfield Avenue, received Planning Board approval two years ago, but the process to secure state permits and approvals took a year, according to Ralphi Mocci, president and owner of Woodbridge-based Mocci Industries. Acquired for $325,000 in 2003, according to PropertyShark.com, the 0.3553-acre parcel at 446 St. Georges Ave. (Block 16, Lot 1) had been a vacant lot.

The ground floor will include 4,000 square feet of commercial space, which could house anywhere from one to three tenants, Mocci said. The second floor will have four luxury apartments (two, two-bedroom units and two, one-bedroom units), with off-street parking.

Mocci also was involved in the converting the former Huffman-Koos furniture store into the age-restricted, 150-unit Park Terrace Apartments on St. Georges Avenue near Rahway River Park.