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This article by Barbara Fox was prepared for the May 10, 2006 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Life in the Fast Lane

Undaunted by the prospect of construction on the Scudders Falls bridge, Craig Guers has bought the Atchley tract for his firm, Opus East, and will start development next month. The tract, located in Ewing just off I-95, previously was owned by Bloomberg and had been considered as a new location for its operations now based on Route 518 in Montgomery Township.

Guers also happens to be the buyer who rescued Crossroads Corporate Center from unleased oblivion. The building had stood empty for six years at the intersection of I-95/295 and Route 1 (see page 16) when Guers, who at that time represented Leggett McCall, decided that south of Princeton would be the next hot area. Taking the advice of Aubrey Haines, he bought the building in 1996 for Leggett McCall, and the first tenants moved in the following year.

Guers has followed Haines’ lead again, this time to buy land from Bloomberg for Opus East, his current firm. Jay Biggins of Nassau Street-based Stadtmauer Bailkin Biggins was a consultant to Bloomberg, which sold the property directly to Opus East.

Opus East has already signed its first tenant, for the first 110,000 square-foot building, and though Guers cannot reveal the name of the company, he is optimistic about finding tenants for a total of 750,000 square feet.

"Crossroads Corporate Center leased up very quickly," claims Guers, who believes that "southern Princeton," the area around I-95/295, is "the path of progress." For instance, a survey of the Crossroads Corporate Center workers showed that 65 percent of them live in Bucks County.

Guers exemplifies his beliefs: He moved from West Windsor to Burlington County when he went to work for a Philadelphia-based firm. Haines also lives in that area, and he has his real estate business, Mercer Oak Realty, in Burlington.

Bert Steinmann, a councilman in Ewing Township who also sits on the planning board, says that the new owners will cluster the buildings together more closely than under the Bloomberg plan, and there will be fewer people working there than under the Bloomberg plan, which called for 1 million square feet.

Steinmann also reports that Bloomberg bought the tract for under $14 million and sold it for more than $21 million, but that Bloomberg invested time and money to get the property ready. For instance, the state department of transportation has agreed to put in a traffic signal on Route 31.

Opus East plans to start construction on the road system next month. Though there is talk of a hotel and restaurants, they are not in the original design. Guers has not yet made an appearance before Ewing’s planning board, but he hopes to finish the first building on the Atchley tract by the end of next year or the beginning of 2008.

The Atchley family had owned a farm that was bifurcated by the construction of I-95. To get to the office park, workers will take Exit 4 from I-95, turn on Route 31, and turn at the planned traffic light into the complex.

"When the first part is built out, it will bring $2 to $3 million a year in taxes, and the full project will bring in $12 to 13 million," says Steinmann. "It is very exciting for the township."

Opus East, says Guers, is a merchant builder that buys, develops, and leases projects "and then we sell them to a cadre of investors with whom we have longstanding relationships." Family owned, it was founded in Minneapolis in the early 1950s. Guers’ initial project for the recently-opened Philadelphia office were Turnpike Crossing, 1.2 million square feet of warehouses on Davidson’s Mill Road at Exit 8A, which was sold to Allianz.

Guers claims that the current traffic backups at the Scudder’s Falls bridge, which can extend for 1 1/2 to two miles, are less onerous than the bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic on Route 1. He is not really worried about the delays that could result from the planned bridge-widening construction. Says Guers: "If the property is for sale, I can’t say to Bloomberg, `Why don’t you wait three years?’ I will take my chances with the bridge."

– Barbara Fox

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