Christian Nickerson has made the journey from dotcom to bricks and mortar, but he hopes to bring the dotcom technology to the business of real estate. Nickerson was a key engineer in a dotcom start-up, OneHealthBank.com, which was founded at Windsor Corporate Park and aimed to revolutionize medical payments by putting all the insurance, medical, and credit information on one card.
Before OneHealthBank sold to a company in Indianapolis, it landed a contract with Empire BlueCross/Blue Shield, and Nickerson went with the contract. But he grew restive and went back to his roots in Wildwood, where he had spent his summers as a child and where his parents now live. He and his cousin Stephen Scherfel, a real estate veteran, bought and renovated the 66-room Oceanic Hotel across from the new convention center. He also bought an adjacent Days Inn. After two seasons he plans to raze both hotels and build a 350-unit $150 million condo hotel. He has a dozen other projects underway in the state, ranging from two new single family homes in Trenton on Melrose Avenue to a 550-acre subdivision in Deptford.
Now Nickerson has moved his company, Princeton Junction Group, from a home office in Princeton Junction (where he lives with his wife and two children) to 600 Alexander Road. Guy Lanciano, with whom he shares office space, is the corporate attorney, and Dennis Hawver, of the Hawver Group in Cranbury, is on the board of advisors.
He has a building firm (Princeton Junction Construction) and a development firm (Princeton Junction Development Partners), and he plans to set up – not a true dotcom – but a "click and mortar" hybrid company, with a website to bring real time information so that potential investors knowledgeably put money in real estate. The first online investment to be offered will be the new condo hotel. "Our aim is to create an investor portal, though currently we work only with investors accredited by the SEC," says Nickerson.
The son of an iron worker foreman and the youngest of three brothers, Nickerson went to Susquehanna University, Class of 1992, and had a dual major in physics and mathematics. He worked as an actuary at Selective Insurance in Branchburg, then he moved to Germany for Dresdner Bank, where he co-developed a warrant trading system and reported to the board. Then at OneHealthBank, which had a $250 million technology budget, he developed a prototype of a point of service/settlement solution that can adjudicate healthcare claims in six seconds.
When OneHealthBank was bought by RealMed in Indianapolis, Nickerson became an officer of Empire Blue Cross/Blue Shield. "But I come from a family of construction workers and iron workers, and construction is in my blood," says Nickerson.
"We are merging the real estate market with the finance industry to create a new consumer model for real estate investment. Consumers could go to a real estate investment website and place their investment into a real estate offering. The stock market is scary, but real estate is a tangible asset," says Nickerson. Unlike a real estate investment trust (REIT), which is composed of many different properties, Nickerson’s investments will be offered on a per project basis.
"Our first offering will be the new 25-story hotel, the closest hotel to the new $75 million convention center, which had 190,000 visitors in that time period. Investors can buy warrants (options) in the company that owns the hotel." Once it gets high-tech hotels, Wildwood can have a year-round season, he explains. "Pulling in the tristate business could double the economy of Wildwood."
Princeton Junction Development Partners, 600 Alexander Road, Second Floor, Princeton 08540. Christian Nickerson, co-owner. 609-209-0544; fax, 609-482-8077. Home page: www.princetonjunctiongroup.com.
Fifteen years after its founding as an engineering consulting firm, HACBM is firmly planted in the Architecture/Engineering (A/E) space, and it is renovating a new 9,800 square-foot corporate home. It bought the former S.G. Frantz industrial building at 31 Darrah Lane, next to Triangle in Lawrence, and has targeted December as a move-in date. Meanwhile, it is hiring. "We don’t want to be a large firm, but we want to be a firm of about 50 people, and we are about 34," says Emad Abou-Sabe, who is in charge of business development. He explains that an A/E firm can serve a client "by controlling schedule, costs, and project scope – the key elements in the success of any project."
How it started: One of the original partners at CUH2A, Dick Hoisington, left that firm in 1989 to provide structural engineering design services at his own firm. He took a young engineer, Robert M. Mailer, with him. In 1992, Ahmed Azmy and Harlow Pearson, both architects who had been with CUH2A, joined the firm to provide architectural consulting services. At that point the firm hired Bruce Constant and Ted Bell as partners, and it become known as Hoisington Azmy Constant Bell Mailer or HACBM.
At that point the engineering services included mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection engineering. Though it was capable of doing the work of a full-service architecture/engineering firm, HACBM still operated mostly as a subconsultant, offering a mix of services under contract to other design firms.
In the late 1990s, when Hoisington retired, followed by Constant and Bell, HACBM decided to focus on prime contracts, so that architectural commissions would drive the firm and the engineers could support those contracts.
"As the founding partners retired in the mid to late 1990s, we really didn’t want to work for engineers any more, and it became our charter to pursue architectural work. Our first ‘ground up’ projects were a bank branch in South Brunswick and the Metuchen municipal hall," says Abou-Sabe.
The son of a Rutgers microbiology professor, Abou-Sabe studied landscape architecture at Rutgers, worked for the firm of Johnson Jones in the mid 1980s, and was invited by Azmy (a friend of his family) to help with a design competition for Dubai. "We won the project and were commissioned to set up an office there for mixed use waterfront development in United Arab Emirates, we stayed through the first Gulf War." Abou-Sabe joined HACBM in 1993, managed some of the bigger projects, and took on the business development role.
HACBM recently built two early childhood schools in Elizabeth and rehabbed a high school in East Orange. "We were the first ones out of the gate to get a school contract," says Abou-Sabe, referring to the Schools Construction Corporation initiative. The SCC had hoped to open 50 schools by this September, but the projects have been fraught with problems. "They ended up opening only 12 new schools, and two of them are ours."
In Passaic HACBM is designing an adaptive reuse of the vacant but historic Elks Lodge into a residence building designed to New Jersey Green Homes and New Jersey Energy Start Homes standards. Other projects include working with Montgomery Township to develop strategies for resolving overcrowding in the municipal building. The firm is also consulting for Hopewell Borough on its aging municipal building, its non-code compliant library, and its need for expanding police services.
Princeton area clients include Palmer Square Management, the Judy King Antiques Shop, Heartland Payment Services, the planned Homewood Suites Hotel on Route 1 (next to the Marriott at Scudders Mill interchange), the College of New Jersey, and Princeton University. Firms that combine full service architecture and full-service engineering are not that common, notes Abou-Sabe. Among the bigger firms, CUH2A and Hillier are in this category, and the Prisco Group, with more than 50 employees in the Kooltronic property in Hopewell, has that goal as well.
"As architect/engineers, we look at the project as a whole," he says. "Architects are problem solvers; they look at a project more comprehensively – the box and its guts. Engineering firms, working for architects, can engineer only what they are told to. And engineers typically have finite solutions, whereas architects have a hard time putting the pen down."
If engineers must be hired separately, they give a price for one or two different solutions, and every time the client architect changes the plan the engineers have to charge more money."Architects are also at the mercy of the engineers’ schedule," says Abou-Sabe. "Why we sell ourselves as A/E is that we can develop a design and not be at the mercy of a consulting engineer who must engineer every iteration of our architecture. In-house, we grow the solutions together."
As its own client, HACBM is designing the exterior of its new building in zinc (metal) panels that have a dark metallic look, resting on a light grey stucco base. Window assemblies, some with solar awning-type shades, will have colorful mullions to provide accent color in the facade.
HACBM Architects Engineers Planners LLC, 211 College Road East, Princeton 08540. Robert M. Mailer, president. 609-452-7779; fax,609-452-7959. Home page: www.hacbm.com
Journal Register Co. (JRC), 50 West State Street, 12th Floor, Trenton 08608-1298. Robert M. Jelenic, chairman and CEO. 609-396-2200; fax, 609-396-2292. Home page: www.journalregister.com
Jean B. Clifton is the new president and chief operating officer, posts previously held by Robert M. Jelenic, the chairman and CEO. Joseph W. Pooler is now senior vice president and chief financial officer. The chain publishes the New Haven Register, the Trentonian, and 25 other daily newspapers, and it owns 338 non-daily publications. Stock News
Innophos Inc., 259 Prospect Plains Road, Building G, Cranbury 08512. Randy Gress, CEO. 609-495-2495; fax, 609-860-0138. Home page: www.innophos.com
The specialty phosphates maker increased its net sales and income for the fiscal year of 2004. Last August it became a stand-alone company, comprised of several segments of the North American specialty phosphates business formerly owned by Rhodia SA."Our 2004 results were solid, and we continue to execute well on our planned transition to a stand-alone organization," said CEO Randy Gress, in a press release. "Today, Innophos is better positioned to capitalize on our competitive advantages in the North American specialty phosphates market, and to further penetrate and expand into higher-margin, growth markets. Improved pricing has also helped Innophos offset higher raw material, energy and transportation costs." Net sales were $538.3 million, an increase of 6.8 percent, as compared to $503.9 million for the comparable period in 2003. Net income for the year was $14.5 million, an increase of $13.9 million, compared to $0.6 million for the comparable period in 2003.
J.D. Reed, 64, on June 15, of a heart attack. A poet, novelist, and journalist for Time Warner, he wrote "The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper," which was turned into a movie, and his most recent book, "Stairway to Heaven," is being published by Rolling Stone. A memorial service will be Sunday, July 9, at 11 a.m. at the Unitarian Church of Princeton, 50 Cherry Hill Road.
Jerome E. Berner, 73, on June 15. He had been vice president of PalmerSquare Inc.
Judy A. Slavkovsky, 45, on June 16. She was a leasing agent for the Equity Residence Company in Plainsboro and had worked at Merrill Lynch.
Henry A. Hill Jr., 65, on June 17, of lung cancer. A founding partner of Hill Wallack, he represented developers in the 1983 New Jersey Supreme Court Mount Laurel II ruling (U.S. 1, June 8). The funeral will be Wednesday, June 22, at 6 p.m. at Mather-Hodge Funeral Home, 40 Vandeventer Avenue. Afterwards, a celebration of his life will be held at the law firm’s offices at 202 Carnegie Center.