Hamilton’s Hot, Too

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This article by Barbara Fox & Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the April 21, 2004 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Elsewhere on Princeton Pike

Back in the 1970s when I-95 was being constructed, Princeton Pike was just a street that went from Princeton to Trenton. At that point the Pike boasted three corporate headquarters north of Franklin Corner Road: Union Camp, Lenox, and Imo Delaval.

Joseph R. Jingoli of Joseph Jingoli & Son, Contractors, represents the third generation in his family’s construction business. “We did a lot of the infrastructure in the area prior to the building of I-95,” says Jingoli, a 1957 graduate of Rider. The work included bridges on Quakerbridge Road, Rosedale Road, and Route 29 in Trenton, and infrastructure on Route 1 for FMC, Cyanamid, and the Carnegie Center.

The first road to be developed off of Princeton Pike was Princess Road. Jingoli built that road and the infrastructure. Then he decided to do development as well. He bought 27 acres on Princeton Pike at Franklin Corner Road. In 1978 he erected the first building at 3131 Princeton Pike, and five years later there were six buildings and 266,000 square feet.

The Jingoli Organization also built and developed two buildings in Princeton on Thanet Circle and two more office parks near I-95 — Mountain View and Parkway Corporate Center. His daughters, Stacey Jingoli Markowitz and Kim Jingoli Chiurco, represent the fourth generation of this family business, which has its headquarters at 3131 Princeton Pike.

On the other corner of Princeton Pike and Franklin Corner Road, across the Pike from Jingoli’s enclave, is a four-building complex, 3100 Princeton Pike. It was developed by a neurosurgeon, Ariel Abud. A dozen years ago, so the story goes, Abud saw a little white ranch-style house on that corner, knocked on the door, and when an elderly lady answered, he offered to buy her property. “The rest is history,” says Joseph Ridolfi, who leases the complex for Abud. The four 18-000 square foot buildings have a 98 percent occupancy rate, says Ridolfi.

What happened to the original houses on this block? Union Camp was razed to make way for a corporate campus for RCN, a project that was aborted when RCN’s fortunes began to dwindle, and now Bristol-Myers Squibb is the land owner. A financial printer occupies the building where Princeton University Press used to be at 3175 Princeton Pike. The Lenox company retains its 125,000-foot building at 100 Lenox Drive, where it employs 225 people, and the Gillespie Organization has 150 people at the former Imo Delaval building, which it now owns.

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Hamilton’s Hot, Too

Preferred Real Estate Investments is a developer that goes after buildings that others overlook. The Pennsylvania-based company, with a New Jersey office on Franklin Corner Road, is in the process of turning the old American Standard building across from the Hamilton railroad station into office space. The former manufacturing facility is to be reborn as the American Metro Center.

“American Standard is really a cool building architecturally,” says Frank O’Neill, who, along with two partners, heads up the developer’s New Jersey operations. “You can’t tell from the outside,” he says. “Its unique features are covered up by ugly warehouses.” While the bones of the building’s exterior have disappeared under add-ons, its interior skylights and soaring ceilings have been cut-off by drop ceilings.

Underneath all the wood paneling, however, O’Neill’s company saw architectural charm of the sort that would attract high-end clients. There are, for example, two 360-foot-long kilns, parts of which will be retained.

Preferred has signed six tenants, and expects to see the first of them move in by the first of September. “Two are law firms,” says O’Neill. One has signed, and the other, he says, is close to signing. Other future tenants are FLOORgraphics, the Vaughn Drive-based marketing company that specializes in placing advertisements on supermarket floors; and two companies at Princeton Junction’s Washington Park, MacTec (an environmental engineering firm), and Union Switch & Signal, a company that does engineering work for railroads around the world.

American Standard, which sits on 60 acres, has advantages other than its architecture, says O’Neill. There is exceptionally easy access to the site, by either road or rail. Southbound trains stop right in front of the property and trains headed for New York are reached via a skyway. As for highways, “we’re a quarter of a mile from I-295,” he says, “and nine-tenths of a mile from Route 1. We’re seven minutes from Trenton.”

Access is important to some tenants, and less important to others. Twin draws for every tenant, though, are parking and rent. At one time, says O’Neill, the building, which once disgorged a steady stream of toilets, was the longest manufacturing facility in the world. Its linear set-up means that nearly every tenant will have parking right at its door. There will be no need for a multi-level parking garage, or for jockeying for a space near a central building entryway. As for the rents, O’Neill says that his company is asking $21.50 a square foot, an amount he puts at some $5 less per square foot than rents in Lawrence.

Conceived as a “Class A” office center, American Metro Center will have a full-service cafeteria, a fitness center, and a shared conference center.

O’Neill is the brother of Michael O’Neill, president of the development company. He came to commercial real estate after a seven-year career with the FBI, where his assignments included monitoring gang warfare and drug activity in Los Angeles and watching for domestic terrorism in Puerto Rico. The former work was more exciting than the latter. “There was always something going on in Los Angeles,” he says. Before joining the FBI, O’Neill, a flyer and a graduate of Embry Riddle University, served in the Marine Corps.

He joined his brother’s company for two reasons: more freedom and more money. He says that he finds commercial real estate at least as exciting as the work he did for the FBI.

Part of the challenge at Preferred Real Estate involves uncovering sites that no one else wants to touch. One recent project involves turning an old PECO Power building, hard by the railroad tracks in Chester, Pennsylvania, into upscale offices. “Everyone said ‘you’re crazy,’” O’Neill says. But the 450,000-foot building, which he calls “spectacular,” has attracted major tenants, including Wells Fargo Financial.

Now, he says, other companies are starting to move into the area. His company owns 60 acres along the river on that site and is considering recreational projects, perhaps a race track.

At the former American Standard building, the company has 800,000 feet, but will demolish nearly half of it. The warehouse portions, O’Neill explains, are too deep for offices. The stretch from window to window would be just too great to accommodate office workers’ desire for natural light. After excess parts of the building are shorn away, there will be 456,000 square feet of office space that could about 1,800 workers.

Demolition has begun, leases have been signed, and a final closing on the property is to take place in the near future, says O’Neill.

Preferred Real Estate has no plans for further development on the site, but O’Neill points out that a transit “village” is planned for the other side of the tracks. It is to include stores, residential units, and perhaps small offices — all of which will be a long way from a toilet assembly line.

— Kathleen McGinn Spring

Preferred Plus Real Estate Group, 134 Franklin Corner Road, Suite 202, Lawrenceville 08648. Larry Doyle, director. 609-912-1144; fax, 609-912-1166. Www.preferredrealestate.co


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