If you walk by 34 Commerce Street in Downtown Newark, you likely will not know what the building once served as or what its future holds. With the exception of the number 34, there are no signs in front of this stately structure, which sits between Broad and Mulberry Streets next to Cafe Airlie. However, major changes are likely coming to this centrally located brick and limestone building, which has been publicly owned since it was built over 90 years ago.
The Newark Municipal Council unanimously adopted a resolution earlier this month that will allow the municipal government to sell the property to a developer, 34 Commerce Street, LLC. The upcoming owner, which is based out of a West New York condominium, is expected to buy the building for $900,000 from the City of Newark in order to create “office and retail uses.”
City Hall did not issue a Request for Proposals for this property nor was there a public bidding process. The resolution states that state law allows for the municipal government “to arrange or contract with redevelopers for the planning, re-planning, construction or undertaking of any redevelopment project” and to “convey property…without public bidding and at such prices and upon such terms as it deems reasonable.”
While 34 Commerce Street, LLC will be required to conduct an environmental remediation of the property as part of the sale, the company will not be required to pay for it. The LLC obtained their own estimate for remediation costs from a Sussex County-based company called ABS Environmental Services, LLC, according to the resolution. The contractor estimated that an environmental remediation will cost $48,000, all of which is expected to be reimbursed to the developer by the city.
Half of the remaining $852,000 is expected to remain in the hands of City Hall while the other $426,000 will go to the Newark Public Library (NPL).
The building looks nearly identical today as it did in 1927 when it was built for $225,000 to serve as the Business Branch of the NPL. An article in The New York Times at the time stated that the library location “has given to the business people of that city a new house of knowledge — the only institution of its kind in the East.” The facility included plenty of maps, books, and directories related to commerce and trade.
In the decades since, the NPL expanded the branch’s collection and regularly held exhibits inside, eventually turning the building into the Business Information Center. Two Star-Ledger articles from 1997 referenced plans to consolidate the Business Information Center’s collections into the main library on Washington Street and mentioned that the facility closed at the end of 1996, despite being “heavily used by business people throughout the state.”
Today, close to a decade after the building was constructed, the resolution approving its sale mentioned that the NPL still was utilizing the building “without a lease agreement.” The resolution also claimed that “the City has determined that the property is no longer needed for any public use and that the redevelopment of the property…will contribute to the reinvigoration of the city.” However, the exact plans for the redevelopment were not specified.