Somerville, NJ – Walking down Somerville’s charming, bustling Main Street today it is hard to imagine that the viability of this now thriving business area was very much in question 25 years ago. Years of poorly planned development and newly constructed shopping centers put downtown Somerville’s future in jeopardy.
“It’s easy to forget that back then the very future of suburbia in places like Somerset County was being questioned. Could stranded office complexes be reinvented? Would downtown redevelopment succeed? Would millennials want to work here? We now know the answer to all these questions is a resounding yes, but it wasn’t clear then. It took the vision of DeSapio Management and SSP Architects to see downtown’s potential and start the revitalization process on Main Street’s east end,” said Mike Kerwin, former Somerville Mayor and Somerset County Freeholder who was President of SSP Architects in Somerville for 18 years.
Led by brothers Anthony and Carmine DeSapio, and later Anthony’s son, Martin, a new vision for the East End emerged – serving as a catalyst for further downtown business growth. With a total investment of $70 million, four new buildings were built by the DeSapio-SSP partnership. They replaced old, abandoned, and underutilized properties. It all started 25 years ago with the building of the Hamon Building at 58-86 East Main.
“Hamon wanted to move in quickly, with its employees wanting to get away from a sterile highway office environment to a downtown setting where they could easily grab a bite to eat and take a nice walk. It was ideal timing with a more diverse food scene emerging – helping to diversify downtown restaurants. The morning after the planning board approved the project, designed by SSP, DeSapio had shovels in the ground. The building went up fast,” said Kerwin.
Martin DeSapio said, “From that point 25 years ago, our family made a commitment to Somerville that has never wavered. We were confident that this would be the start of a downtown renaissance, and we are so pleased to have played a significant part in it.”
Within four years, a second building – 92 East Main Street – created a combined 160,000 square feet of office space – all of it quickly leased. This was combined with a public-private partnership that allowed for the design and construction of a 700-space parking garage to not only serve this development, but also alleviate some of the borough’s longstanding parking woes that discouraged people from doing business in downtown Somerville.
Phase One’s success led to the construction of another 65,000 square foot building. Spaces were leased by a combination of private businesses, county offices, and the county’s newspaper – the Courier News. They moved their headquarters downtown from their former highway location.
All of this led up to the completion in 2018 of perhaps the crown jewel of this building quartet that helped spark the business renaissance in downtown Somerville. It was a 100,000 square foot mixed-use building called Somerville Commons that features retail space, two restaurants and a fitness center on the first floor. The second and third floors contain office space with 14 one- and two-bedroom apartments on the fourth floor.
“With this building being closest to the heart of downtown, it did a great deal to further boost Somerville’s growing reputation as a great place to shop and dine. It helped attract many young professionals to the area – who now saw Somerville as a wonderful place to live and work,” said Marcus Rosenau, Principal of SSP Architects.
Businesses are also attracted to these buildings because they are only two blocks from the train station. This enables them to attract employees from different parts of the region who like the convenience of public transportation.
“It warms our family’s heart to see Somerville’s downtown maximize its potential. We are extremely proud of DeSapio Management’s work with the borough and helping it bring in a lot more tax revenue,” said Martin DeSapio. He added, “We’ve helped bring in millions of dollars in tax revenues into the borough on land and property over the past 25 years. We estimate that it is over ten times more than the properties that were there when we started our development projects. I think we’ve made a tremendous contribution to the energy and vibrancy of the town.”