The historic property needs a lot of maintenance; once restored, however, its new owner believes the building will serve as a lynchpin of revitalization in the borough business district.
By Matt Skoufalos | August 30, 2016
Washington Township native Michael Yacovone has been in business “since the day I walked out of high school,” he said—but never the business of property restoration.
That’s all about to change with his latest venture: fixing up the historic Audubon National Bank at the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Merchant Street.
Yacovone, who owns a number of Meineke Car Care locations in South Jersey, was looking for a real estate investment property, and purchased the building “out of the sheer love” for what he believes it can be.
“As soon as I saw it, I said, ‘I’m buying it,'” Yacovone said. “I love the period. Anything from the 1920s, it doesn’t get any more beautiful. They don’t build buildings like this.”
He describes the underlying structure of the building as “strong and awesome,” but undone by a lack of routine maintenance.
“Father Time had kind of squashed it,” Yacovone said. “The [brick] pointing is in awesome shape. The architecture is in good shape. The plaster is in good shape.
“Finding the right person’s going to be our thing,” he said.
Fortunately, Yacovone can afford to take the time to renovate the property before making that decision.
He has a larger sense of what the building means as a gateway to the Audubon central business district, and is determined that his eventual tenant should be someone who brings an anchor concept to the location.
Early suggestions include a restaurant—Yacovone believes the atmosphere would be “perfect” despite the potentially prohibitive fit-out cost—or a microbrewery, as long as he can find capable, experienced tenants.
“It’s got to fit in well with this block,” Yacovone said. “It’s got to be able to drive this block. If the block thrives, I thrive, the building thrives, and everything works nicely together.”
There’s certainly a lot to work with. The 10,000-square-foot building features a three-room mezzanine overlooking an open area that once served as a live music venue.
Individual offices are offset from the main lobby by original doors, and feature large, multi-story windows.
A standing-height basement runs the length of the building beneath, and an attached, three-floor-walk-up, 3,000-square-foot loft apartment offers the opportunity for additional return on his investment.
Cleaning up all of it will take time and effort, as will bringing order to the leftovers from the old Audubon Auction House, the most recent use of the property. Many of the building’s nooks and crannies are stuffed with memorabilia, from musical instruments to artwork, furniture, and antiques.
“I knew when I bought this it was not going to be easy,” Yacovone said. “I knew we’d have to sit on it until we figure out the use.”
Even if the building isn’t ready for some time yet, Yacovone thinks he’s in the right place to see what happens next.
His wife, Kathleen (nee Heller), is an Audubon native, and can’t wait to play a part in bringing the borough business district into its next phase.
“We care what happens to this corner,” Yacovone said.
“There’s a lot of heart in this community and that’s what’s keeping it alive. I think there’s a lot of potential here.”
Audubon Mayor John Ward described the property as “critical” to generating interest in the retail business district. He said that he and Yacovone “are on the same page” as to its importance to the community.
“A restaurant, or possibly a brewery, would be a great fit,” Ward said. “Our neighboring towns are initially having success with this formula, so I am hopeful that we can also revitalize the Merchant Street business area.”
Until the right opportunity presents itself, Yacovone is willing to wait and see what comes along.
“I don’t have a timeline,” he said. “I can sit on this property as long as I want to until we find the right, long-term fit.
“Whatever we put into this space, if it’s not done right, we don’t get a second chance.”
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