A rendering of the historic Nelson Glass Co. building, located at 45 Spring St. in downtown Princeton, with a planned three-story addition that would add six apartments to the property. Inset: The current one-story Nelson Glass building. — Courtesy: Joshua Zinder Architecture + Design
By Joshua Burd
The one-story Nelson Glass Co. building on Spring Street is a familiar sight to those who frequent downtown Princeton.
Robbie Nelson, the daughter of the company’s late founder, recalls the story of when Bob Nelson moved the business there in 1960 — building a structure that seemed like it was meant to last.
“He built it with these big, huge beams and cinder blocks and brick,” Nelson said. “And I’ve had people say to me, ‘Boy, it looks like he had a plan to do something more.’ ”
Nelson, who took over the business in 1993, is set to fulfill that promise. After vacating the building last fall — moving Nelson Glass to a new space on Alexander Road — her family has broken ground a project that will expand and convert the local landmark to a boutique apartment building.
Plans for what will be known as Nelson Glass House call for a three-story addition with six residential units, while the ground-floor would provide 2,000 square feet of commercial space.
“The location is just amazing,” said Nelson, who leads the business now known as Nelson Glass & Aluminum Co. “There’s nothing else like it in Princeton that’s not developed already and there is just so much potential for the building.”
Designed by Joshua Zinder Architecture + Design, a Princeton-based firm, the project has secured the needed local and state approvals and will include two three-bedrooms, three two-bedrooms and a single one-bedroom. One of the apartments will be reserved for low- and moderate-income renters under the town’s inclusionary zoning policy.
The design will blend the addition with the existing brick structure and incorporate elements of the 70-year-old business, including glass balcony railings that show off the terraced “wedding cake” design.
“We do have a number of small-scale residential projects in Princeton that are going on, but this is really unique,” said Joshua Zinder, the design firm’s founder and principal. “For the style, for the context, for the history, it’s pretty special.”
The project at 45 Spring St. reached another milestone in mid-June when it landed $4 million in construction financing. Avison Young’s George Gnad secured the loan from Columbia Bank.
“What was so interesting is that Robbie wanted to carry this forward and do a project that would be a legacy for her family,” said Gnad, a principal in the firm’s Morristown office. “I was really taken by the whole story and wanted to help.”
In sourcing a lender, he cited the importance of emphasizing that Nelson and her husband, Roy Fennimore, “had the right team in place … to make sure that the bank would be comfortable,” given that they are not developers by trade. That team includes both JZA+D and Long Lane Partners LLC, a real estate management and consulting firm with an office in Princeton, with Jared Walsh taking the lead as the owner’s representative.
For Columbia Bank, which is based in Fair Lawn, the project’s location a block from Princeton University made it “a first-class location,” said Jerry Kaminek, a regional vice president with the lender. He also noted the lack of development in the town.
“You see very little in Princeton taking place, so right away that caught my attention,” Kaminek said. “And then when I got to meet with Robbie and her development team, I thought it was a real first-class group that she had assembled.”
As an active construction lender in the state, he said, the institution saw Nelson Glass House as “a nice addition to the product mix that Columbia Bank is trying to do in the New Jersey marketplace.”
Nelson, meantime, noted that the historic building has long served as a sort of transition point between Princeton’s central business district and the neighboring residential area. Adding apartments to the existing commercial space would make for a fitting evolution for the property, she said, one that would have had her father’s stamp of approval.
“I think it would be good for the town,” Nelson said. “And he was always very concerned about what’s best for the town and moving forward in that way.”