NJ Downtowns Are Breathing New Life Into Empty Old Banks

News | Urban Policy

Downtown banks used to be where eager home buyers applied for mortgages, workers cashed hard-earned paychecks, and youngsters watched nickels and dimes grow in their first savings accounts. But in recent decades, ATM machines and online banking have made these once essential institutions obsolete.

Fortunately, developers and businesses across New Jersey have repurposed dozens of downtown banks as office spaces, restaurants and, in at least one case, a vape shop.

In fact, older bank buildings are ideal candidates for adaptive reuse. David Listokin, a professor at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University, enumerates the reasons that many bank buildings, although aesthetically striking, have become relics. They typically lack drive-through windows, are not energy efficient, and were mainly intended for services now fulfilled electronically.

Still, the banks have “desirable characteristics,” says Listokin—principally, their presence downtown. “They were prominent buildings in prominent locations,” he adds.

These days, the tendency is toward restoration. That attitude could be accelerated by new state tax credits for historic redevelopment that make preservation more viable. “The numbers make sense now,” says Listokin.

NJ Monthly 1/27/23