KEYPORT — A landlord can likely collect more rent for a one bedroom apartment downtown than they can for an office of the same size.
“What I’m finding is that it’s just harder to rent offices in Keyport,” said Robert Moscato, who is a part owner of Honey Hole antiques and the currently vacant 36 West Front Street.
Thirty-six West Front Street, which was the home of Front Street Emporium, the former Bayshore Stationery, and was originally the Keyport Enterprise newspaper. It’s the building across from Keyport Pizza where work crews recently resculpted the stucco facade. Moscato and his partner, Tom Surina, have an initial approval to replace a maze of offices on the second floor with six one-bedroom apartments three of which will have lofts.
A second floor downtown office might only rent for $800 a month but a one bedroom apartment of the same size could fetch nearly $1,300, confirmed Larry Vecchio, the owner of Better Homes Realty.
Moscato’s construction approvals only went so far as to remodel the outside. He and his partner, Tom Surina, still need to get site plan and construction approval for the apartments. He plans to start that process this fall.
THe partners want to rent to young, single professionals who likely need to commute to jobs in North Jersey or New York City.
“They are the type of people who might want a more ‘urban’ feel,” Moscato said. “They will want to just walk out to a bar or restaurant.”
Apartment renters are nothing new for downtown, but they are not specifically allowed. Moscato needed borough approval to convert the offices space to lofts.
He received permission because the prevailing thought is that getting more people to live near the shops, restaurants and bars automatically builds in a customer base for those businesses. The planning board specifically cited that so called mixed-use aesthetic in the zoning waivers it has already given him.
There is a trend nationwide toward a resurgence of downtown spaces like Keyport’s throughout the state in places like Montclair, Red Bank and Asbury Park.
Nationally, small cities are becoming flush with 20- and 30-somethings who have eschewed the post-World War II ex-urban lifestyle of subdivisions and strip malls.
Those are the people that Moscato is hoping to snag with his renovations. And, they are the people that at least one business owner and downtown denizen hopes will make moves to Keyport.
Chris Calabrese is the owner of Calbrese’s Barbershop located directly across from 36 West Front Street. He lives above his shop.
“We love living above the shop and it’s probably the reason that our building, in my opinion, looks pretty cool,” he said. “I think apartments are great and will bring more young people that are looking for a downtown living situation.”
Meanwhile, Moscato and Surina have have their work cut out for them.
The previous owner let the roof leak.
Upstairs the plaster ceiling has fallen to the floor in chunks. The pink paint in one office unit is pealing. Old metal desks, file cabinets and shelves are scattered about the rooms.
On the ground floor, Moscato and Surina plan to open a pair of shops.
Moscato will use his as a more upscale extension of Honey Hole. He hopes it will become a place where a decorator might come to furnish a room or an entire home.
Surina is a coin and currency dealer, and he plans to open a collectible coin shop.