When some people first hear the name “Stephen King,” the image of the bestselling author comes to mind. But in central New Jersey commercial real estate circles, the name “King” brings to mind another connection — to Bill King and his firm, King Interests, and a longtime presence dating back to the very beginning of the Princeton Route 1 corridor and the Carnegie Center in particular.
Now, at a time when Bill King might have been thinking of retirement, his son Stephen has joined the firm, and is adding a brokerage dimension and some technology savvy to its list of services, including development, construction, leasing, management, and financing.
Stephen, one of King’s six children and the only one to follow in his father’s professional footsteps, learned the ropes of commercial sales from Bill Barish at Commercial Property Network. Now on board with his dad, one of Stephen’s first successes was brokering the sale of the Stone House, which sits close to Route 1 just south of the Hyatt Regency on the first 79 acres that his father acquired to develop Carnegie Center.
The Stone House, which Stephen sold to Sajid Syed, a serial entrepreneur based in West Windsor, was built in the 1922 as a residence. When Fulmer, Bowers and Wolf, the architecture, engineering, and construction firm where Bill King cut his teeth, bought the land for Carnegie Center in the 1970s, they weren’t sure what to do with the Stone House, which could easily become an eyesore. Bowers’ daughter, Julia, sold it to a couple of attorneys she knew who rehabbed it and turned it into an office.
In the early 1990s Kirby Westheimer, a financial planner, bought it, rehabbed it again, and made it into his personal office. In 2011 he put it up for sale and went through a number of brokers, without success.
About a year ago, Stephen brought Westheimer an offer that he didn’t accept. Then in May, having gone through a couple of brokers, Westheimer called Stephen back and asked him whether he could “get this thing done” and find a buyer in six months.
“I went out and tried to stir up a buyer,” Stephen says. Through Roberta Parker, a residential broker with Berkshire Hathaway, he showed the Stone House to Sajid and Simin Syed in July. “He liked it because it was kind of funky, but he wasn’t really sure,” Stephen recalls. They negotiated from July to November and closed on November 25. Syed plans to use it for his next business.
Bill King found his way to Princeton after meeting Princeton architect Raymond Bowers two months before graduating from the University of Colorado with a combined degree in engineering and architecture. It was 1974, and Bowers was in Denver to receive an American Institute of Architects award for his design of the KLZ AM-FM-TV studio. A classmate of Bill’s, whose father was head of field operations for Fulmer, Bowers and Wolf, invited Bill to dinner with Bowers. After dinner Bowers offered Bill a job.
Bill recalls the moment with a smile. “At first I said no; I hadn’t seen New Jersey except from the New Jersey Turnpike, and it was not very appealing. But he sent me a ticket, and I arrived in a great town and a beautiful place.” Bill also realized he was close enough to New York to experience the New York School of Architecture, one of three schools of architectural thought in the United States (the others were centered in Los Angeles and Chicago).
Bowers, whose firm was founded in 1901, was largely a builder but also had a group of architects and engineers. It contracted to design and build, and its work included 88 television studios; manufacturing work for General Motors and other big car companies; assembly work for General Electric; and manufacturing, assembly, and process works for many New Jersey pharmaceutical companies.
Bowers also built Jasna Polana, where King served as field engineer, whose work, he says, “starts off as the guy who gets coffee,” but then becomes one of processing and disseminating information, and doing some shop drawings and samples. King would take information from subcontractors’ detail drawings, fill in the blanks, and submit the drawings to the main architects at Harrison & Abramovitz in New York. “The field engineering kept me busy in the daytime,” King says. “At night I worked for the architecture and engineering firm at company headquarters doing drawings.”
During the recession of 1975, companies engaged in design-build contracts were short on capital and asked Fulmer, Bowers and Wolf whether they would also own and lease back their buildings. “They didn’t want to tie up their core capital in non-core expenses,” King says.
The first building to follow this design-build-lease scheme, at 201 College Road East in then brand new Forrestal Center, was for Herbert Kane at Mainstem. “We built a 50,000 square foot building, then he took approximately 35,000 square feet that we owned and rented back to him, and we leased the rest of the building,” King says.
As time went on, a larger part of the Bowers business, about 40 percent, became business that it did for its account — developing buildings, owning them, and leasing them to tenants. The other 60 percent was design-build for other people, King says. During that period, King took night classes at Drexel University and the Wharton School in finance and real estate as well as architecture and engineering graduate studies.
About 1979, Bowers’ firm took an option on a 79-acre property at the corner of Alexander Road and Route 1 that was the first step toward the creation of Carnegie Center. The land had been a large sod farm owned by a consortium that included the Kelly family, John Kelly and his famous sister Grace. Louis Golden of Philadelphia was the broker who had put together the investment consortium. Bowers took options to buy the land for Carnegie Center over time.
As part of the initial 79-acre acquisition, Bowers also contracted to do a design-build for Mark Landis, then president of Scottish & York Insurance Company, who wanted to consolidate its four different Princeton locations into a new headquarters at Carnegie Center. When Bowers closed on the 79 acres, the firm had a simultaneous closing with Landis’s company, which bought back 16 of those acres. The 140,000 square foot headquarters that Bowers designed and built for Scottish & York became Carnegie 101, which stands alongside the Hyatt and behind the Stone House. Landis brought his brother, Alan, to the deal as a financial partner.
Because Mark Landis wanted a world-class architect to design the building, Bowers hired Hugh Stubbins and Associates of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Stubbins also designed several buildings on the Princeton University campus, as well as City Court Center in New York City and the Federal Reserve Bank building in Boston. For Carnegie 101 Bowers did work on the land-planning side.
King’s title was project manager when Bowers was acquiring the first 79 acres and building the Scottish & York headquarters. “My responsibility was to make sure the project got built and to interface with the leasing people and the subcontractors,” he says.
“Hugh was excited about doing a building here,” King says. “He did a great job. He set the tone for the first cluster of buildings. We decided at his suggestion to use uniform building material for the external skin of the buildings, and the Hyatt was designed to the same standards.”
As part of the master plan for Carnegie Center, Stubbins put together a book of design guidelines regarding the materials used in every building; the general footprint; the height; the location of the parking area; and the circulation plan, both vehicular, in the sense of how to get in and out, and pedestrian. “We wanted all the buildings to be linked with sidewalks,” King says. “We put cafeterias in the buildings and other amenities that would attract people to relocate offices there.”
The buildings would have multiple meeting rooms, from small conference rooms that would hold eight people to seminar rooms that could handle 220, classroom style. The first group of buildings had four meeting rooms, reserved through Bowers’ firm, that any tenant could use free of charge, on a first come, first served basis. “That was attractive because a lot of people could use the space without paying fulltime rent on it,” King says. To serve the tenants, the park also had fitness centers; a dry cleaner; a fellow who would repair or polish shoes, which was quite popular; and a person who would cut hair.
Moving into 1980, the real estate landscape began to change. In this period of high inflation and high interest rates Bowers undertook its first speculative office building at Carnegie Center, number 104, in 1981. The interest rates on construction loans were 20.5 percent, King says, noting that the Federal Reserve had raised interest rates because of runaway inflation. “The values of real estate escalated; rents started to go up,” he says. “When we started Carnegie, we were leasing space in the first building at $13.50 a square foot on a gross basis (including all the operating costs, heat, power, taxes, insurance).”
By the time Bowers had started his first building on speculation, the company had to make a decision on another 100 acres it had optioned. “The president of the company, Ray Bowers, decided he wasn’t in the land speculation business — he was a designer/builder,” King says.
At this point Alan Landis expressed an interest in buying out Bowers’ interest. “By 1981, we had structured a buyout that left Alan and myself as the new owners,” King says. Together the two men created a new development entity, Carnegie Center Associates, exercising the option to buy the additional 100 acres in 1982. Bowers, he adds, retained ownership of 103 Carnegie, which his firm built and leased, and he would have contracts to design and build for 104 and 105 (103 and 104 were mirror buildings, and 105 a smaller building behind the Stone House, adjacent to Scottish & York).
The first building in the next phase of Carnegie Center’s development, made possible by the land purchase, was a long, dark, granite structure at the corner of Route 1 on Carnegie Center Boulevard. Designed by Princeton architect Bob Hillier, the building’s first occupant was United Jersey Bank.
At about the same time the lease of the Princeton post office, then in a small building on Alexander Road, was expiring. “They had to move, and we didn’t want to lose the Princeton post office,” King says. “It had more boxes per square foot than any other post office in the United States, because everybody loved that magic name. We built a post office at Carnegie Center to keep them there.”
Noting that people recognize the Princeton name all over the world, King adds, “That is why it is valuable for us to keep the Princeton Post Office, even if it is in West Windsor.” While the bank and post office building was going up, they built the infrastructure, roadways, and utilities to support the entire 200 series of buildings.
In around 1981 Alan Landis, King, and Bowers began discussions with the Pritzker family to build a new Hyatt hotel at 102 Carnegie Center. They built the Hyatt in 1983. “It was somewhat unprecedented because we wanted to have their Regency-level motel,” King says. “The Regency name represented one of the highest names in hotel service on the market in those days, but up to that point they hadn’t built a Regency outside of a central business district.”
“We got them to build a Regency, in part because Marriott was very interested in putting a full-service hotel on the lot,” King says. The resulting motel, completed in 1983, became Hyatt’s first “suburban Regency.”
“It proved to be a huge amenity for Carnegie Center,” King says. “A lot of people who came to Princeton found it easier to stay out on Route 1 than come in and stay in town. It also provided a place for people to go and have lunch, additional meeting rooms that were much larger than what we had available, and rooms in close proximity to offices we were building.”
As Carnegie Center grew in size, a more efficient solution for providing services like restaurants, haircuts, and shoe repair was needed. “We went into phase 2 of the park and saw that we really needed a commercial center,” King says.
In 1984 they had closed on a larger property on the west side of Route 1, which ran along the canal between Princeton Overlook and over to the land where MarketFair now sits. The piece along the canal was zoned residential, and Carnegie Center Associates sold it to the Weingarten Siegel Group, which developed Canal Pointe and Colonnade Pointe. A new entity called Princeton Retail Associates, comprising King, Landis, and Roger Steinhardt (who continues to work with King Interests as the firm’s “broker of record”) bought the front side to build MarketFair in 1985.
Princeton Retail Associates developed MarketFair as a joint venture with John Boorn, who was at the time was president of JMB Federated Realty. Boorn had worked for the Rouse organization that developed the Inner Harbor in Baltimore, the South Street Seaport in New York, and Faneuil Hall in Boston.
Between 1984 and 1986, King and Landis were building out the 200 series of office buildings, which included additional cafeterias, meeting rooms, and retail space, still necessary until MarketFair was completed.
As they continued to work on developing infrastructure at Carnegie Center, they began work for Bell Atlantic and AT&T, including the Tower Center office complex at Exit 9 of the New Jersey Turnpike in East Brunswick.
In 1989, just as they were finishing the Tower Center project, they got a new request for proposal from Educational Testing Service to build 400,000 square feet at Carnegie Center. ETS was trying to build in Lawrence, King says, but the township was giving them a very difficult time. In 1989 and 1990, Landis and King built the 500 series, and ETS took 10-year leases on 502, 504, and 508. Now ETS is entirely back in Lawrence.
In 1988 King and Landis finished MarketFair and purchased the land at Nassau Park, on Quaker Bridge Road and Route 1. They had heard from JMB Federated Realty that Nordstrom’s was interested in moving into the area, but did not want to go into Quakerbridge Mall, and also Home Depot had expressed an interest. “We were thinking we were going to build a Nordstrom’s and a big center mall,” King says, “but the severe downturn in 1990, which really hurt commercial real estate, caused the Nordstrom family to postpone any plans to build.”
“We had 160 acres at Nassau Park and basically nothing to do with it,” King says. “Fortunately for us Walmart came along and said they were interested in being there along with their Sam’s Club store.” King and Landis sold all this land to Walmart, bringing in funds that helped the company get through the recession.
In the mid-1990s King and Landis built several more buildings at Carnegie Center, but in 1997 they sold all the buildings in Carnegie Center, with an option to purchase the land, to Boston Properties. Landis retained the rights to the vacant land. Four years ago, King and Landis built 701 Carnegie Center for the university, and Boston Properties bought it for the university building.
Also in 1997 King and Landis built Hyatt Place, a smaller suite hotel next to MarketFair. As a result of the 1990-’91 downturn there was big cut in the business community’s travel allowances, and people couldn’t afford the Hyatt, King says, so they built Hyatt Place “to accommodate business traffic on a budget lower than full service.” Then in 1999, they built the Marriott Residence Inn beside MarketFair in response to demand for a longer-stay product for executives and corporate employees being transferred.
In 1997 King started King Interests to accomplish several things he wanted to do personally. One was to be involved in the elder care business, growing in part out of conversations with Ray Bowers, who continued to be King’s mentor but was elderly and lived in the Presbyterian Homes development in Hightstown called Meadow Lakes.
During these conversations King learned that Bowers did not like living there — it was too far away from Princeton for friends to visit; he didn’t like to drive at night; and he missed being in Princeton near younger people. King had also seen a counter-example: two of his own grandparents in a facility “who were fortunate enough to live in the town that they had lived in for their entire lives.”
From 1997 through 2004, King did many projects for the Lutheran Church in its elder care business. King also joined the board of Presbyterian Homes, now called Springpoint, but eventually left in order to do some work for them; during his tenure they built Stonebridge.
King also bought the building where King Interests is now located — 219 Nassau Street.
At that point the business of King Interests had three parts: about a third of its volume was in elder care; another third working with longtime clients like Sarnoff, ETS (with whom King had worked since 1975), and the Law School Admission Council; and a third working on the firm’s own account, developing its own buildings.
Then the elder care business began to change, with less emphasis on companies that are mission driven (where King Interests had its clients) and more on trying to help people age in place. As a result, the mission-driven people stopped building buildings, and King says, “as business dwindled, I started thinking about potentially retiring.”
Another issue facing him was that, before Stephen came to the fore, all his adult children had decided to go into other fields; the youngest, Kristeyanne, was the only one at home and still in high school.
Around 2004, King was seriously thinking about retiring, and his wife was pushing to move back to Colorado to live. Since Kristeyanne was about to start high school, the timing made sense. So they moved at the end of 2004, and King traveled back and forth.
But when his daughter had finished her sophomore year, the family realized it might be time to go back east. “I was watching what was happening to graduates of Aspen High School — becoming ski bums all over the world,” King says, adding that he suggested to Kristeyanne, a talented writer, that she might want to think about coming back to Princeton, and going to the Hun School, where King had been on the board for 10 years before leaving for Aspen. Also, they had kept their house in Princeton.
In the meantime Stephen, who says he is a visual person, was drawn to “things that you can see and touch.” He started college at the University of San Francisco, but moved to the University of Denver, because it had a real estate program. “After the first couple of classes, I knew it was the road I wanted to go down,” he says. “I love the entire process of taking a raw piece of ground or an existing dilapidated building. When I started studying brown fields, I thought it was neat that real estate development was going into places like Newark, places that are chemically screwed up, and redeveloping them into beautiful apartments and cleaning things up environmentally.”
After his graduation in 2009, Stephen thought at first that he would devote his career to these types of projects, until he learned about the entitlement process and dealing with the Department of Environmental Protection and other agencies. “It was a lot more fun to learn in school,” he says.
He then spent six months in San Francisco, where his brother had a technology company, working for Starbucks. “I went for six months [to San Francisco], then called dad,” Stephen recalls. His father told him: “If you are going to do the real estate thing, it’s better to learn it on the East Coast. Come back and work for somebody else first.”
That’s when Stephen got the job with Bill Barish’s brokerage company, after calling on innumerable people. “In 2009, there were not a lot of guys knocking on doors,” Stephen says. “Secretaries were throwing me out of the office and cursing me. I thought it was most difficult business in the world to make money in and wondered how I was supposed to support myself in this business.”
In mid-2012, Stephen called his father and told him he had enjoyed working in the brokerage business, but the whole reason he got in was because he wanted to do development. His father, noting that development is built on brokerage, told him he was ready and suggested that because King Interests did not have a designated brokerage department, perhaps he ought to build one. King also told his son, “The brokerage business is not the business I actually pursued in my career, but it became a necessity because clients asked to buy buildings, to buy land to build headquarters, and to rent.”
Stephen’s first construction project was at 19 Washington Road, for Naga Thota at Wizcom Corporation, during his tenure with Bill Barish. He had sold Thota a small warehouse building, with an office attached, and he asked King Interests to put together a proposal to renovate a portion of the warehouse section into new office space. At about that time Stephen left Barish, and Thota asked to come along to King Interests.
With that experience, Stephen was asked to broker space in a 40,000 square foot building at 707 State Road for Jack McCarthy, the Princeton attorney who owned the building. He put together four leases and a fifth is in negotiations, but Stephen no longer represents McCarthy on that building.
King Interests recently used its expertise in three areas for a job for the Village Shoppes retail center on Route 206 in Montgomery Township: constructing a new facade for the existing 20,000-square-foot structure, developing a 16,000-square-foot-addition (with retail on the first floor and offices on the second) from the ground up, and leasing space. Stephen leased the end cap (the premier unit, at one end, that draws traffic into the center) to the Mooh Yah burger company, which he says is “sort of like Five Guys and Fries.”
King Interests also leased a 2,500 square pad site out front to Wells Fargo and did its site work, including preparation of the curbs, driveway, and foundation and bringing utilities and sewer lines.
Bill also bought land and did the entitlement work for a large development in Robbinsville, obtaining approval for 120 apartments and 50,000 square feet of commercial space. In Robbinsville Commons King Interests owns 89 of the apartments and 35,000 square feet of commercial. The firm plans either to do a joint venture with a residential partner or sell the entitled land.
Currently the firm is doing an environmental project involving waste management in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, and several large construction projects, including fitting out (reconfiguring) spaces for MIAX Options in Princeton and Miami, Florida; the Law School Admission Council in Newtown, Pennsylvania; and Beautiful Waxing Deal at Nassau Park, for whom Stephen also did a lease deal.
As the son of an engineer who was eventually a senior vice president for General Electric (“a lifer with GE,” he says), Bill King moved around a lot as a child — Schenectady, Cleveland, Charleston, WV, Baltimore, Philadelphia.
Bill himself wanted to be both an engineer and an architect, but the latter was his main focus because he “liked the design of buildings.” So he decided to go to the University of Colorado, which was one of two schools that combined architecture and engineering, and the other one, Penn State, did not have a ski team (the second reason he made Colorado his choice).
Bill’s wife and Stephen’s mother, Barbara, taught kindergarten and pre-K for the YWCA and worked at Stuart Country Day School for several years, in preschool, kindergarten, and grades 1 and 2. Then she was a stay-at-home mom, and now a stay-at-home grandmother, helping out with their oldest daughter’s two children.
In 2009 the Kings experienced a family tragedy when Kristeyanne, who had recently graduated from Hun, was killed in a car accident on the way back from a concert in Camden. It took a big toll on the whole family, and his father lost interest in things, Stephen says, but things have been looking up again. “It’s nice to see my parents alive again,” he says. “This is a great community, and a lot of people support you.”
The firm was pretty small when Stephen came in, but now they are trying to build it back up and are looking to hire people, take more space, and do both development and brokerage. Currently King Interests has seven employees, which include Stephen, his brother-in-law Rich Gittleman, and Bill.
“I want to build this company but want to incorporate technology with it,” Stephen says, noting that the real estate industry seems to be the last one to jump on the technology bandwagon. “We have one database, CoStar, where a broker can put all of their listings; it costs three grand a year, and you can put it on only one computer — everyone in the office has to share computer,” he says. “Our processes could be more efficient.”
Stephen himself loves technology and, on the side writes apps. He has written an app he calls Begoh. The app asks whether you are interested in office, retail, or restaurant space, the number of employees, and millions in sales, and calculates the amount of space you will need. Stephen thought he might use it as a marketing tool for his own company, but then saw that people were downloading it and adding properties in different places, like California and Ohio; he himself put in about 35 properties in Princeton, with the contact broker’s name.
Noting his desire to find more efficient ways to market properties and organize financial data for the industry, Stephen says, “Technology is starting to change a lot of industries. I think it can change a lot in the real estate industry, and I’d like to be part of that.”
King Interests, 219 Nassau Street, Princeton 08542; 609-921-1331; fax, 609-921-0026. William F. King III, president. www.kinginterests.com.