Woodruff Building on the block

One of my favorite buildings in Rahway, The Woodruff Building on the corner of Irving and Lewis streets, went on the block this month with an asking price of $799,000. Sure, it could use some sprucing up, but I like buildings with a name etched in the cornerstone or along the top floor; it adds a bit of character and some history. (When I get a chance, I’ll track down some info on this Woodruff fellow.)

The two-story structure at 1439 Irving St./62 Lewis St. consists of about 9,500 square feet, with offices on the second floor and the Rahway Dance Theatre and retail space occupying the ground floor. Built in 1920, the property is assessed at about $300,000, paying property taxes of roughly $15,200.

Earlier this decade, the building was eyed as the new location for The Waiting Room. Owner Chris Wenson said he had a deal to buy it in 2000 for $450,000 from Leung Chen but couldn’t until the Redevelopment Agency bought the old Waiting Room, which relocated to make way for the parking deck and hotel. By the time the city came up with the money to buy The Waiting Room three years later, he said Chen decided not to sell. “It would have made a nice restaurant but it would not have been as big as what we have now,” said Wenson, who opened at his East Cherry Street location in 2006. The Waiting Room closed at Lewis and Main streets in 2004.

I recall some opposition at the time to relocating the existing Rahway Dance Theatre, which still is a tenant along with two second-floor office tenants. Chen sold the property for $800,000 two years ago to the current owner, an entity called 1439 Irving St., LLC which lists a Bryant Street address, according to property records.

Wenson said his father owned The Woodruff Building when he was a child and his dad and uncle had their offices there, recalling a time capsule buried in one of the walls during the ’70s.

Times: Cubanu ‘uneven but generally satisfying’

The New York Times on Friday had a review of Cubanu, calling it “uneven but generally satisfying.” They loved the starters, particularly the crab and avocado salad, and the desserts. They also described the restaurant as three years old but it’s more like two, having opened in late 2007.

Last year, The Star-Ledger gave Cubanu 2 1/2 stars, and of course, here’s our take from way back in January 2008 soon after it first opened. I’ve been back since and I’d say the appetizers still are my favorite part of the menu.

Kataluma Chai opens next month

Kataluma Chai Company will open next month with a grand opening weekend Oct. 16-18 when patrons can get a free cup of chai latte or free scoop of ice cream during the opening weekend. A ribbon cutting ceremony is slated for Oct. 14.

The gourmet tea cafe at 1470 Main St. will offer chai teas, coffee and bagels, breakfast pastries, and desserts, in addition to free Wi-Fi and study areas. (I don’t know about you but I think we could use some decent bagels within walking distance of downtown.) The cafe is leasing about 650 square feet from the adjacent Niece’s Pieces.

It’s the first Kataluma Chai on the East Coast, with existing locations in Lakewood, Colo. and Silverdale, Wash. Rahway residents Aisha Thomas-Petit and Danielle Etienne decided to open the cafe after a visit to Colorado.

Asbestos removal could near $100K on Hamilton home

Asbestos remediation for a home that will be demolished to make way for the amphitheater on Hamilton Street could cost almost $100,000.

City Engineer James Housten briefed Redevelopment Agency commissioners during a meeting earlier this month. He said a survey estimated the cost to deal with asbestos at 312 Hamilton St. to be $43,000, with administrative costs possibly bringing the total to $93,000. Asbestos must be removed from the roof, floors and tiles before demolition can occur, he said. The Redevelopment Agency acquired the two-story, multi-family home last year for $340,000 to include the space for the Hamilton project.

Housten also described the design for the amphitheater project site. The amphitheater itself will be on the front, left portion of the Hamilton property, with parking in the rear center and rear right, and continuing to a lot behind where the house is located, and up and around the Bell Building.

The site still lies within a flood plain so the stage must be built to withstand stormwater, though it can be approved because there no homes or businesses are planned. Still, he added, it’s a serious waiver that is not easily obtained from Department of Environmental Protection. Housten said the hope is to gain approval by December.

The amphitheater project is expected to go to bid and break ground by next year. The second phase, once the amphitheater is constructed, will include design and development of the Bell Building for a black box and dance theater.

No tax abatement for The Savoy, Dornoch

News that the Plainfield City Council last month was asked by the administration for a five-year, 40-percent tax abatement for a Dornoch project in that city has prompted questions from readers in recent weeks about whether the Hillside-based developer will seek the same for The Savoy on Main Street. (The Plainfield governing body was scheduled to entertain the measure at its meeting last night.)

City Administrator and Redevelopment Director Peter Pelissier said Dornoch had requested abatements in negotiations this past summer, but he said he rejected it, with no plans to entertain the idea.

The only recent tax abatement awarded by the City Council was about five or six years ago when Park Square was still just on the drawing board. Landmark Developors will pay 20 percent of the assessed value of the property in the first year it’s on the tax rolls (2009), and 20 percent more each year until 100 percent is reached. Pelissier said the city tax assessor is in the process of compiling the first assessment for the property, which would mean it would be paying 100 percent property taxes by 2013. The project broke ground in 2007 after several years of land acquisition and other work for the development.

Also, this interactive map from P and F Management (a subsidiary or parent entity of some kind for Dornoch and its projects) is another indication that The Savoy may become rentals, something with which the city probably would not have a problem considering the real estate market and other projects going rental.

Skyview settlement remains unsigned

It’s been a pretty quiet summer over at Carriage City Plaza — apparently a little too quiet. The Redevelopment Agency approved a settlement agreement with Carriage City Properties (CCP) in May but the developers still have not signed it and have provided little information to the city, according to City Administrator and Redevelopment Director Peter Pelissier.

The developer has until this month to execute the agreement or the city will reach out to the financing bank for information, said Pelissier, adding that they’ve heard little from Carriage City about how many units have been rented or sold. No units at Carriage City have appeared in property transactions since early in the spring.

There have not been any new temporary certificates of occupancy (TCO) issued for the building, according to Pelissier. Under the agreement, the Redevelopment Agency is supposed to receive 10 percent of the rent from each rented unit — only the city doesn’t know how many are rented and has yet to receive a dime from rents. Last we heard, there were about 57 units sold and about five rented while 76 TCOs had been issued at the 222-unit development.

Temporary parking until deck is built

The Redevelopment Agency last week approved a memo of understanding with the Parking Authority and Dornoch to create temporary surface parking at the future site of The Westbury.

Dornoch and the Parking Authority will swap some parcels to create temporary surface parking that will be leased to the Parking Authority. “Temporary” essentially means until a parking deck is constructed, which could be several years.

City Administrator and Redevelopment Director Peter Pelissier estimated about 100 more spaces could fit on the property, in addition to the existing 80 or so existing spaces near Lot B. The move will allow some motorists who lease spaces from the Parking Authority at St. Mary’s on Central Avenue to move closer to downtown, he said. Leasing the temporary surface parking would provide Dornoch some cash flow as it builds The Savoy across the street (where there has been virtually no activity in a year) and pays some $30,000 in property taxes on The Westbury site alone.

The resolution and memo of understanding is meant to convince Dornoch’s investors, a hedge fund based in Holland, that The Westbury is a reality and provide them with a level of comfort to secure additional investments and financing for The Savoy. Should investors not be comfortable with prospects for The Westbury, they don’t believe they would get enough return on The Savoy alone, Pelissier said. “They’ve invested a lot,” he added and would be more comfortable knowing the Redevelopment Agency won’t back out of The Westbury project.

Also referred to as Dornoch II, The Westbury originally was envisioned as a 140-unit development along Main Street behind the East Cherry Street storefronts. The project also included 20,700 square feet of commercial office space and 19,2000 square feet of retail, with an adjacent 350-space parking deck.

Renovations under way at Main Street building

As reader Kevin pointed out in his comment the other day, renovations began last month on two storefronts along Main Street.

Plans for the renovations first were presented to the Redevelopment Agency and Planning Board last year, as reported by Rahway Rising. In addition to new signage, lights and facade, vacant office space on the second and third floors will be transformed into two, two-bedrooms apartments.

Hopefully this means getting rid of the cheesy — and probably illegal — “open” sign that hangs in the window of the Chinese takeout joint. (Apologies for lack of a photo on that.)