Prompted by its recent change in ownership, the Princeton Packet has vacated its flagship office building at 300 Witherspoon Street and moved a few blocks uptown into smaller quarters at 145 Witherspoon.
“The office we’ve been in is way too big for the size of the staff,” said Don Russell, editor-in-chief of Newspaper Media Group (NMG), the new parent company of the five Packet newspapers. The Packet’s eight editorial staffers will occupy the offices formerly occupied by the Princeton Sun until it was also bought by NMG and shut down. The Packet took over the lease at 145 Witherspoon and occupies a five-room suite totaling 700 square feet.
The Packet’s ad sales staff is now based in Manalapan, in the offices of Greater Media Newspapers, another recent acquisition of NMG. “Before we purchased that company, there were a lot of cutbacks there, so they have extra space,” said Russell.
What of the former Packet properties?
In its heyday in the 1990s Packet employees were overflowing at 300 Witherspoon, and the company purchased adjoining properties, converting several from residential to commercial use. In October the Packet sold its six properties for $5.4 million, according to public records. The buyer was a group of LLCs all registered to a Lake Drive address owned by Michael J. Zammit and Helena May.
A woman who answered the home phone said she was not the person to talk to regarding the properties, but a message went unreturned. An online search of Michael J. Zammit refers to a Malta-based professional who owns Malta Sotheby’s International Realty and is the CEO of CSP Group, a firm that provides services for high net worth clients seeking to set up businesses in Malta.
“The current owner doesn’t want too much publicity,” said Richard Gittleman, a commercial broker at King Interests, located on Nassau Street. “We’re marketing the former Packet properties for lease.”
Gittleman estimates the main building at 300 Witherspoon is currently composed of 10,000 square feet of office space and 10,000 square feet of warehouse, though that is flexible based on the tenant. In November public schools administrators toured the building as a potential temporary administrative office.
“It’s a function of dollar and cents, and how much work has to be put in,” Gittleman said. “The owner’s preference is probably to do retail. If someone wants to pay enough to renovate it, we’ll redo it.” The property sits across the street from the new 280-unit Avalon Bay apartment complex.
The three houses immediately adjacent to the former Packet office building, 290, 292, and 294 Witherspoon, as well as 9 Birch, will be converted from commercial to residential. (The three Witherspoon houses were initially included in the Witherspoon-Jackson Historic District, but Jim Kilgore, the Packet owner at the time, showed up to multiple municipal meetings and successfully lobbied for their removal.)
“The idea is to restore what’s there and not to tear it down,” Gittleman said. “They will be turned back into residential and leased as residential.”
The other former Packet property is 283-287 Witherspoon, a 0.40-acre parcel across the street from 300 Witherspoon. Recently used for Packet employee parking, the gas station garage structure will be torn down and redeveloped, Gittleman said, though he did not provide any specifics.
One thing the new owner apparently did not have to confront at the old printing plant was environmental contamination. When Kilgore first put the property on the market in 2011, the Packet’s general manager at the time, Brad Koltz, told reporters that “we use environmentally friendly soy-based inks, highly recycled paper, and self-contained systems. Absolutely nothing goes into the ground.” Koltz added that the silver used in the printing process was fully reclaimed and re-sold on the metals market.