The latest evidence of downtown’s hot real estate market: The 129 Church St. office building across from the Green has sold for $6.9 million—15 times what it fetched two decades ago.
A growing local real-estate company, MOD Equities, purchased the 89,625-square-foot, eight-story brick building from JMJ Services Inc., a company associated with James Salatto.
JMJ bought the building in 1993 for $450,000, according to land records.
New Haven was different then. So was 129 Church, observed Frank D’Ostilio of Real Living Wareck D’Ostilio Real Estate, who along with Vincent Torrens represented the buyers in the sale.
The city was mired in recession in the early 1990s. And 129 Church St. was less than half full.
Today the building is at least 90 percent occupied, D’Ostilio said. Tenants range from NBC 30 news and Liberty Community Services to the Urban Design League and attorney’s offices. Chick-Lets Organic Grille occupies a storefront.
While other developers are converting downtown office buildings (like the old Union Trust at Elm and Church) into apartments, MOD plans to maintain 129 Church as offices, said Jacob Feldman, one of the firm’s principals.
“The plans are to hopefully continue running it the way the previous owners run it. They did a beautiful job. We’d like to continue having it as a thriving downtown building. We just want to keep everybody there that’s happy,” Feldman said.
The company does hope to put in a gym along with a meeting place, he said. “What is unique about this building, opposed to other buildings on the block—there are a lot of smaller spaces, 300, 1,000-square-foot units. It would be nice to give them a communal space. It would promote interaction among the tenants and give a tighter-knit feeling to the building.” A roof deck is also under consideration.
In its first weeks of ownership, the company has already discovered beautiful wood floors hidden beneath carpets, Feldman said. The idea is to restore those and other historic details.
Second National Bank of New Haven occupied 129 Church when it was built in 1912.
“We want to peel away some of the layers that were constructed over the years and bring out the original beauty of the building,” Feldman said. “It’s a gorgeous building. The bones are incredible.
“It’s easy to fall in love with the building.”
MOD Equities, which has an office on East Street, started buying properties in downtown New Haven and in East Rock and Wooster Square around four years ago, according to Feldman. He said the company owns about a dozen buildings with some 90 apartments altogether. One of its properties, 101 Orange, includes the Central Steakhouse. “We’re always seeking new opportunities in New Haven,” Feldman said.
MOD Equities formed a limited-liability corporation to purchase 129 Church. The purchase was financed in part by a $4.65 million mortgage from Flushing Bank of New York, according to land records.
Meanwhile, Next Door ...
City Hall has been working to make a deal happen on that block—not at 129 Church, but next door at 123 Church, the stately 1823 Greek Revival “Exchange Building” at the corner of Chapel.
Developer Paul Denz bought that four-story building in 2013 for $2.7 million. It has Class A office space, which costs more than the space at 129 Church.
While New Haven’s housing market has been hot, “there’s not a huge influx of companies moving in and needing office space,” Denz said.
Enter CRN. The fast-growing radio and social-media marketing company has outgrown its Hamden headquarters. The company has been looking to relocate in either New Haven or New York. New Haven development officials want to see him locate here; they advocated 123 Church as a potential headquarters. (Read about that here and here.)
Denz and CRN reached a tentative agreement on price earlier last year, according to both sides. The state government threw in some job-creating money. But talks stalled. Denz decided he might prefer to own it instead.
Talks resumed this past fall. “Discussions are ongoing, but they’ve been very very slow,” Denz said Thursday. “We did agree on a purchase price. He told me he was going to buy it. It’s just not happening. I’m as interested to know why it’s not happening as you are.”
“We’re still very interested,” said CRN chief Barry Berman. In recent months “time-consuming issues have distracted from focusing on the building,” said CRN’s chief, Barry Berman. He said he hopes to renew focus on the deal.