New London investor plans rehab of another Bank Street building

New London — Yehuda Amar, whose investments into aging New London properties are helping to transform Bank Street, has added another downtown building to his portfolio.

Amar and his partner Joseph Grillo, doing business as 123 BJY LLC, completed the purchase of 123 Bank St. last month and are planning another massive renovation project.

The century-old building housed the former Olympic Sporting Goods and now is home to the New London Antiques Center, The Pride Center gymnasium and Robin Evans Brows, along with a few smaller spaces inside the antiques center.

Suzanne Berkman, the longtime owner of the antiques center, sold the sprawling three-story building for $505,000, city records show. Berkman could not be reached for comment.

“We bought it because of the potential,” Amar said. “It’s going to be a lot of work.”

Amar has rental agreements in place with the current tenants and doesn’t expect to start any construction work until next year. He said his focus for the time being will be the completion of his current project at the former Royal Hotel and Ernie’s Café at 53-55 Bank St.

Two entrepreneurs are planning to open a bar and restaurant, Bar on Bank, at the former Ernie’s Café, while Amar converts the 20-room former Royal Hotel above the restaurant into eight upscale apartments with water views. The restaurant is expected to open this summer. A timeline is not set for the apartments.

Among other projects, Amar has completed a renovation project at 153 Bank St., the former Modern Electric, with three street-level retail spaces and six upstairs apartments. The apartments are all rented out and retail establishments include Hot on Bank Yoga Studio and Credabel Coral Laboratory and Gallery.

Based on Amar's body of work, including renovation of 147 Bank St., Pride Center co-owner Chad Schmidt said he was thrilled about the prospect of a complete overhaul of the building, which is showing its age.

Schmidt and co-owner Matt Batista operate the 24-hour gymnasium, which offers self-defense and strength conditioning, in the basement of the building and they expect to stay for the foreseeable future.

“I think it’s a great buy. He’s going to better the building," Schmidt said. "Yehuda does a phenomenal job in whatever he touches."

Phyllis Ropi, who runs The Backroom, a sports memorabilia shop inside the antiques center, said it would be sad to see the antique center lost to the downtown after more than two decades.

Yehuda said his plans for the building will not be finalized until after architects and engineers have finished work but expects the result will be first floor retail, top floor apartments and either offices or apartments on the second floor. The second and third floors have been emptied with wares shifted to the first floor — a collection that includes vintage clothes, records, books and a wide assortment of collectables.

Because the front of the building is only two stories, Yehuda said he is exploring the idea of creating a proper second floor and shortening the ceiling height on the first floor. The basement gym will be left alone.

g.smith@theday.com

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