One of the largest development and adaptive reuse projects to be proposed for Downtown Trenton in recent years could be given the necessary approvals by city officials next week. Ajax Management is seeking to rehabilitate and convert two historic buildings as well as construct several new structures as part of a multi-phased proposal for the central business district of New Jersey’s capital city, according to a legal notice from City Hall.
The first phase of the project calls for turning the six-story Commonwealth Building at 150 East State Street, at the northwest corner of North Montgomery Street, into a mixed-use development with retail space on the ground floor and 35 residential units above. The structure, which is known for its ghost sign for the D.H. Brand & Co. department store and the artwork from the SAGE Coalition’s Windows of Soul project, is currently vacant. Just like the Commonwealth Building, the nearby Bell Telephone Building at 216 East State Street features artwork and ghost signs on the exterior and is set to be adaptively reused. This previously announced phase of the development calls for converting the building into commercial and retail space on the ground floor or mezzanine levels, according to the notice, with 104 units on the upper eight floors.
The remaining four phases of the proposal all involve new construction in the Canal Banks Redevelopment Area and the upcoming Creek to Canal Creative District. A ten-story building is planned for the properties consisting of 222, 224-226, and 236-238 East State Street, along with 70 North Montgomery Street. The notice states that the bottom two floors would contain parking spaces while the floors atop the parking area would contain 208 residential units. This new development would replace several structures in the neighborhood, one of which was previously home to United Progress and Trenton Head Start.
Around the corner, a smaller building would be constructed on the lots that make up 227 and 235 East Hanover Street with retail space, 10 units, and a terrace, while a five-story building would be constructed down the block at 201 East Hanover Street with 24 units. Finally, one of the tallest buildings in Trenton is being proposed by Ajax for 200 East State Street, directly across the way from the Commonwealth Building. It would include 278 residential units on the top ten floors atop a five-story parking garage. The existing building at the site, a two-story vacant structure, previously contained a Bank of America branch. It would be demolished under the new plan, according to the notice.
Community members will have a chance to weigh in on the proposal during the Trenton Planning Board’s meeting on Thursday, March 22. During the hearing, which is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m., Ajax will request Preliminary and Final Site Plan approval with variances for lot coverage, residential unit size, minimum open space, and the elimination of a fee for lacking an open space plan. Whether the proposed developments will include affordable housing or space for community organizations is not yet clear.
Based on Hamilton Avenue, Ajax is responsible for the redevelopment of the Trenton Watch Factory and the Chamber Lofts. However, the company has raised some controversy among some local residents and artists for its recent acquisition of properties from the City of Trenton at relatively low prices. For instance, Ajax acquired the city-owned “Gandhi Garden” on East Hanover Street in September 2017 for $25,000, according to The Trentonian, and they purchased the Commonwealth Building from the city in May 2017 for $100,000, according to NJ Parcels records.