NEWARK, NJ - A mystery developer received approval from the city planning board to turn the historic Griffith building on Broad Street into modern apartments and ground floor retail space.
The building at 605-607 Broad St. was built in 1927 by the Griffith Piano Company and was used as a showroom, office tower and recital hall. Now, the building is slated for 60 studio apartments, 27 one-bedroom units and a three-bedroom penthouse suite that will take up the 17th and 18th floors.
“Historically, it was used as a piano factory,” said the project's planner, John McDonough, at a planning board meeting last week. “It's been vacant for decades and we now have an applicant ready, willing and able to invest in this property.”
The applicant listed for the project is only identified as 605 Broad St LLC. Chris Murphy, an attorney for the applicant, declined to name the parent company of the LLC or give the name of the owner.
Filings from the state treasury department list Jacob Tauber as the authorized representative of the LLC. The company is based out of 900 C Lake St. in Ramsey.
Whoever Tauber is (he could not be tracked down for comment), he has several LLCs that are buying up properties around Newark like hot cakes.
New West 1, another LLC that uses the same Ramsey address, is listed as the applicant that wants to build four residential towers in an area of the West Ward that is dotted with two and three-story homes. Lake Properties, which also uses the same Ramsey address, bought two buildings at 51-53 and 67-69 Lincoln Park, according to records.
CYT Holdings is another company that lists Tauber as the authorized representative. That LLC has bought over 30 properties in Newark, records show.
There is a development company based in New York that is known as Tauber Properties, but one of the owners said they are not associated with the Griffith building.
"We don’t own anything in Newark, New Jersey," said Phillip Tauber when reached by phone.
The anonymous 605 St. Broad LLC bought the Griffith building from HG Jetson Urban Renewal in April for $6.4 million, records show. HG Jetson Urban Renewal was in the care of the Berger Organization, which once owned the building.
The Berger Organization did not respond to a call seeking more information about why it sold the building. The organization also owns the Robert Treat Center near Military Park.
A far more visible owner bought the Griffith building in the 1980s, according to a newspaper article from the time. When Sol Gillman, a developer from New York, bought the building for $500,000 back then, it was supposed to signal Newark's "economic rebirth," The New York Times wrote at the time.
Gillman had plans to renovate the building, which was neglected when the Griffith Piano Company went bankrupt in 1973. When the piano company had occupied it, the building featured mahogany-paneled elevators, marble floors and bronze doors. There was once a 200-seat auditorium on the first floor, too.
The building is on the National Register of Historic Places, and the latest owner needed to get approval from the city’s Landmark and Historic Preservation Commission for the project.
The exterior of the building will not be changed. No name for the project is proposed, however, the historic lettering that spells out "Griffith" on the gothic building will remain.
Two stories of retail space, which was once used for a symphony hall, will be on the ground floor of the building. There are not enough windows to create residential units on the second story, explained the building’s architect, Patrick Lesbirel.
“We're hoping to incorporate a theater, a game room, a lounge and a gym all on the base level for use by tenants of the building," said Lesbirel, of Brick City Reconstruction
The Griffith building has passed hands through several owners throughout the years. Cogswell Realty Group bought the building around 2003, and the company’s president described the interior to the Star-Ledger as “worse than what you’d find in Baghdad.” It later exited from the deal.
When the planning board last week asked how long it would take for the current owners to complete the project, someone let out a laugh in the chambers.
“Our client wishes us to move this project as fast as physically possible,” said the building’s architect.