Uptick in downtown property transactions?

Two of the largest property sales downtown have occurred in the past year (Center Circle and Watt Hotel) but it would seem there’s an uptick in the number of sales of downtown properties, large and small, in the past two years.

Over the years, I’ve noticed properties sold here and there and usually write about the significant ones but it recently struck me as particularly active so I took a closer look at property transactions, specifically among the 138 properties designated within in the Central Business District (CBD) in the past two years (2016-17).

It’s somewhat anecdotal; I wouldn’t want to pin down a percentage increase/decrease in sales price because of the small sample and they’re not exactly comparable sales in most cases, what with the mix of residential, retail, and a foreclosure throw in here and there. But 26 25 properties in two years certainly seemed striking to me when you consider that’s 18 percent — almost one in five — properties designated in the SID. To say nothing of properties outside of the CBD.

I put together a property transactions map but I’ve got some bugs to fix as it’s currently showing some Rahway addresses in Winnipeg and South America for some reason. In the meantime, here’s a list in Excel.

Watt Hotel.from Fulton.DPalmer
Watt Hotel at Carriage City Plaza

By my count, the 26 25 properties sold during 2016-17 totaled sales of almost $21.5 million and currently assessed for more than $8.6 million, though almost half of that total comes in the two recent sales of the Center Circle property ($5.285 million) that was on the block for awhile and expected, and the Watt Hotel ($5 million). Some are also smaller residential properties on the cusp of downtown and there’s even one church (Word of Life, $1.6 million, which is tax-exempt since it’s a church).

ETownGas.Willows.along Central
The Willows at Rahway, artists’ housing on Central Avenue

Is it good news or bad news that downtown properties have changed hands? I suppose it depends on the situation of course. Technically, the former Elizabethtown Gas building and the Center Circle were sold in the past two years though both were expected, just a matter of when. But in other cases, properties have been renovated/rehabilitated or put in the hands of more active property owners instead of absentee landlords or those that seem to consider their downtown properties as hobbies, and that’s unquestionably better. At least two other downtown properties in desperate need of some TLC (69-79 W. Main St. and  185 W. Main St.) also were on the market earlier this year.

It’s not just downtown either, according to Cynthia Solomon, director of the city’s Division of Planning. She said there’s been interest all over town, particularly in the last seven or eight months with properties regularly coming off the foreclosure registry and contractors buying up smaller properties to renovate.

Longtime local Realtor Bob Markey suggested the market perhaps has finally corrected from the collapse that started in 2007. The backlog of financially underwater properties have been reduced by time, he said, adding that there is a guarded optimism among buyers.

1530 Irving St., former Public Service building

I’ve written about a few of the transactions before, including the former Public Service building at 1530 Irving St. in July. It’s been years since I last wrote about acquisitions by Landmark Companies, which at this point has bought up most of Main Street between Lewis Street and East Milton Avenue, beginning as far back as 2007 and more recently in the past few years. “We have not made any further development plans for the block but someday down the line depending on how things go in Rahway we may start to look at redevelopment of the block,” Eric Harvitt of Landmark said in a recent email.

The Keasbey-based firm, which was the original developer on Park Square, also acquired Riverside Apartments at 1537 Main St. in May 2015, and outside of downtown bought Union Street Apartments for $1.315 million in November 2015, as 398 Union Associates, LLC.

I only went back two years (2016-17) in property transactions but the list could be longer if we went back further. Among the largest sales in 2015 that we covered previously was 41-51 E. Cherry St., purchased in January 2015 and later proposed adding 43 units, a concept that hasn’t been settled upon. Including 2015 also would add the former Gino’s Pizzeria (1576 Irving St.), acquired in January 2015 and renovated into the new Sabor Peruano space, and nearby 1582 Irving St., sold in June 2015 and now is home to Fe Nomenal Styles salon.

The two-story, retail-residential building at 65-73 E. Milton Ave. sold in September for almost $2 million, according to property records. The building at the corner of Fulton Street went for $1.979 million, two years after it was sold in a Sheriff’s Sale. In between, the property sold for $1.3 million in March 2016.

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