Memo urges $500,000 sale of firehouse

November 23, 1992

The Timer

Memo urges $500,000 sale of firehouse

By Mary Caffrey

Staff Writer

PRINCETON BOROUGH — Borough Administrator Thomas Shannon this week urged officials in the two Princetons to accept a $500,000 bid for the Chambers Street firehouse, even though the amount is less than half the latest appraised value.

In a memo obtained by The Times, Shannon said the building’s condition and the refusal of a neighbor to grant an easement apparently dampened interest in the century-old brick building, which borough officials hope becomes a restaurant.

Rysia de Ravel, a Lawrenceville resident who owns a New York City-based telecommunications company, of-fered the highest bid at a Nov. 12 auction, where even she gasped at the surprisingly low price. The most re-cent appraised value of the building was $1.2 million.

At the auction, de Ravel said she had been looking for a Princeton home for her company for some time. But she said she was willing to consider using the firehouse as a restaurant to sway local officials to accept her bid. The borough kept the right to refuse all bids and must act on de Ravel’s offer by Dec. 8.

Township Mayor Richard Woodbridge would like to seek a higher price. “I think it may be worth putting it out to auction one more time,” he said. “If that doesn’t bring a better price, we may want to consider negotiating with the highest bidder.”

Princeton Borough Mayor Marvin Reed said he was aware of Shannon’s recommendation to accept the $503,000 bid but had not yet read the memo. Reed said the Borough Council and Township Committee will hold a Joint executive session tomorrow night with attorneys from both towns and the auctioneer, Joseph Zidek 01 Coldwell Banker/Schlott.

“We’re going to go over the whole thing step by step,” Reed said.

The sale of the firehouse directly affects taxpayers In the borough and township because proceeds will go to…

… offset the $2 million cost of the new firehouse on Witherspoon Street. De Ravel claimed she had offered the borough $1 million for the building more than a year before, but borough officials have denied this.

Putting the firehouse back on the market, either now or a few years from now, likely would not yield a better price, Shannon wrote. In the meantime, taxpayers must pay for maintenance.

“It is recommended that the $500,000 bid in hand be accepted and that the sale be consummated,” the memo states.

SHANNON OUTLINED the ex-tensive effort to market the fire-house, which sits just beyond Palmer Square in the heart of downtown Princeton. According to the memo:

All local real estate offices were contacted and offered cooperation agreements. The marketing effort drew in more than 100 New Jersey offices of Coldwell Banker/Schlott as well as commercial brokers. Advertisements appeared in The New York Times, The Star-Ledger of Newark, The Wall Street Journal, The Philadelphia Inquirer and local newspapers.

Coidwell Banker/Schlott received nearly 200 inquiries, and 37 parties toured the building. Thirteen went through the pre-auction registration process, and nine showed up to bid. Only four participated, with bids starting at $250,000.

“It is my conclusion that the mar-ket was successfully reached and a high degree of initial market interest was generated,” Shannon wrote.

But several factors pushed down the “real world” market value of the firehouse, the memo states. The glut of office space in the area did not help. Those interested in turning the firehouse into a restaurant, even with the borough’s support, faced spending $1.2 million to $1.4 million before opening.

Rehabilitation costs were pegged at $800,000 for the 8,000 square foot building. A liquor license would cost between $200,000 and $300,000.

The biggest snag, however, was providing an access route for deliveries and a fire escape. The owner of the building directly behind the fire-house “rejected out of hand an offer of $100,000 for an access easement agreement,” Shannon’s memo states.

While Shannon does not name the neighbor, tenants of the building at 15-17 Bank St, identified the owner as Gund Investment Corp. of Prince-ton. Gund’s renovated duplex is one of the most well-maintained houses on Bank Street; one apartment gar-ners more than $1,400 rent a month. Also, Gund owns four other houses on the block.

ACCORDING TO one tenant, there is very little room behind the house to grant an easement, and to do so would put delivery trucks against the back door.

The memo states that the owner of the Chambers Street firehouse must try “exotic and high-cost alter-natives,” such as a 100-foot long interior fireproof corridor. Trash would have to be stored inside the building.

A vault to the sidewalk would be needed to use the basement, and all this could chew up 1,000 square feet of the building. The borough knew easements could present a problem, Reed said, but he said he did not know when the $100,000 offer was made.

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