The historic Keystone Watchcase Co. building in Riverside has been sold to a Brooklyn developer for $125,000, two years after the company submitted a proposal to town planners to convert it into 64 luxury apartments.
Simshabs Capital Partners Ltd., which has built a residential-commercial complex in North Hanover, Burlington County, purchased the seven-story Riverside landmark late last month. It is a former factory, where gold-and-silver-plated cases for pocket watches were manufactured in the early to mid 1900s.
Plans call for turning the building "into a luxury complex, to create a lifestyle with a significant number of amenities," said Bob Dooley, a vice president of development and acquisitions at the company. "There's consideration for having an indoor heated swimming pool, radiant heat, and a lifestyle assistant in the lobby."
Dooley said the company plans to move ahead quickly with a multimillion dollar renovation. He did not have details on the rental rate for the apartments or the target date for completion. The proposal two years ago called for apartments of 1,300 to 1,800 square feet.
The former owner, Lippincott Jacobs & Gouda Consulting Engineers, could not be reached for comment. The engineering firm acquired the building in 1988, after it had been vacant for decades, and then cleaned it up and opened its headquarters on the first floor.
The private sale first was reported by the Burlington County Times.
Swiss inventor Theophilus Zurbrugg built the factory in the early 1900s, and it became the world's largest manufacturer of watchcases, according to the town's Historical Society. The factory, which employed 1,000 workers in its heyday, closed in 1956 as wristwatches caught the public's fancy.
The building, with its iconic clock tower and architecture, is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Nearly 20 years ago, the Historic Society opened a museum on the second floor to display the factory's memorabilia, old photographs of workers, and a collection of shiny watchcases. But in August, the society was told to pack up as the sale was being negotiated.
Alice Smith, the society president, said everything now sits in hundreds of boxes and in display cases. The last time the museum was open to the public was Memorial Day weekend in May.
"We're hoping to hear from the new owners," she said, saying they might consider allowing the museum to stay. "It depends if we fit their plans for redevelopment."
Smith said she hoped the plan for the apartment project succeeds and helps revitalize the township. "This is a key piece of property. It's part of the Golden Triangle," she said, describing a former industrial corner of the township with properties ripe for redevelopment near the Light Rail station and downtown.
Riverside Township Administrator Meghan Jack said Simshabs is the designated redeveloper for the watchcase building. "The intent is to have the building remain intact and to renovate the interior of the structure," she said. The developer also plans to clean the exterior, install windows, and fix the roof," she said.
This would be the Simshabs' first foray into South Jersey with a strictly residential development, Jack said.
Jack said the company is finalizing its site plans and hopes to go before the planning board for approvals in the first quarter of 2017.