The Ocean Spray distribution center on Elizabeth Street in Bordentown — once the town’s major economic engine — will soon be back in operation with a new tenant: fruit juice maker Bai Brands, which will use the site as a logistics hub.

Danny Popkin, owner of development company Modern Recycled Spaces, purchased the distribution center in a deal finalized on June 23. He is also in the midst of purchasing the 445,000 square-foot bottling plant on the same property, on East Park Street. Bai will occupy 80 percent of the 280,000 square-foot distribution center.

Bai is headquartered in Studio Park, a renovated factory on East State Street in Hamilton, which is also owned by Popkin. The company will keep its 20,000 square-foot Studio Park headquarters while consolidating its distribution operations, currently located in several locations in Hamilton, to the Ocean Spray warehouse.

Bai makes fruit drinks labeled as all natural and markets to a Millennial love of drinking things that are infused with other things. Its beverages, such as Guatemala Guava and Sumatra Dragonfruit, are marketed as healthy because they lack added sugar and are “infused with free radical-fighting antioxidants” from coffeefruit. It competes with Coca-Cola’s Vitaminwater and other such products.

Michael Simon, chief marketing officer for Bai, says the company imports its coffeefruit from Indonesia. Bai uses two contract manufacturers, which Simon said he preferred not to name, to bottle the product, and contracts with distributors to ship it to stores around the country.

Bai’s growth since its beginning in 2009 has been meteoric. Ben Weiss founded the company in the basement of his Princeton home. It now employs about 100 people, 50 of whom will move to the Ocean Spray location. Simon says a deal signed last year with Snapple and Dr. Pepper will herald even more growth for Bai Brands, which now distributes its products to stores in 70 percent of American markets.

Last year the company took in $50 million, and Simon expects it to gross $125 million next year, which equates to more than 100 million bottles of its product being shipped out from the Elizabeth Street facility. By comparison, Ocean Spray shipped about 30 million cases of drinks a year from the same facility until it closed in August, 2014.

Ocean Spray made Juicy-Juice products and cran-apple juice at the bottling plant. About 300 people worked there, of which 165 moved to a new distribution facility in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley.

Popkin has big plans for the former Ocean Spray plant, which he has re-named the “Fruit and Produce Centre.” “We’re trying to connect to the agricultural history of the region and to the history of Ocean Spray, which was founded by cranberry growers as a cooperative.” The distribution center boasts 18 loading docks and parking for more than 100 trailer trucks. A railway spur allows loading to Conrail freight trains, although Bai says it will mainly use trucks.

Popkin envisions the Fruit and Produce Centre as a place for “makers” and small, innovative startup companies that make products. He says one possible tenant in the bottling plant is a brewery. Many of Popkin’s other properties, including Canal Center, Mill One, and Studio Park, were formerly factories that were renovated into office space. However, he says his latest acquisition will not be overhauled like the others, and will instead become home to creative manufacturing businesses.

“What we specialize in is bringing in startup, entrepreneurial, creative companies into our buildings, and they network together and grow themselves,” Popkin says. There are about 100 tenants between Mill One and Studio Park. He hopes to draw similar companies to the 50-acre site of the Fruit and Produce Centre. “The key with maker kinds of tenants and startups is that everybody wants low costs,” he says. “Their model is to lease cheaply. We are trying to find ways to create an incentive for them to come to something new.”

Simon is optimistic about the prospects of manufacturing in New Jersey. “There are still people who make things,” he says. “You’re not going to bottle drinks in China, because it’s too expensive to ship it here. We’re between Philadelphia and New York, and there is obviously a huge market for certain kinds of products that need to be made close to the source.”

The original placement of the Ocean Spray facility, constructed in the 1940s, was dictated by its proximity to the cranberry bogs from which its main product was derived. Bai, with its global supply chain, is a different beast, but also wanted the distribution center for its location.

“We’re basically bursting at the seams today,” Simon says. “As the business continues to grow, we wanted to be able to have a warehouse and distribution center that could handle our growth. We have worked with Danny [Popkin] and his company for a while, and we have a great relationship. He was looking to develop this building and it fulfilled a number of needs for us. We had a partnership relationship we trusted, and we like the fact that it was relatively close to our headquarters and keeping jobs in New Jersey was something we felt really good about as well.”

Simon says Bai has already hired three people who used to work at Ocean Spray, and hopes to hire more in the future. “Hopefully rather than displacing them, there is an opportunity for us to find quality, experienced workers.”

The site may also be used for residential units, Popkin says. Popkin, who serves on a redevelopment steering committee in Bordentown, says there has been talk of building housing that is suitable for older residents who can’t climb stairs in the city’s aging housing stock, and for younger residents who are moving to town and want to be about a mile from Bordentown’s restaurant district on Farnsworth Avenue.

First Properties Corp./Modern Recycled Spaces, 1800 East State Street, Suite 220, Hamilton 08609; 609-890-3100; fax, 609-890-3106. Daniel Popkin, president.

Bai Brands, 1800 East State Street, Hamilton 08609; 609-586-0500; fax, 609-586-0900. Ben Weiss, CEO.

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