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This article by Barbara Fox was prepared for the October 16, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Life in the Fast Lane
If you were to imagine an office where the homeless
come for help, you would likely picture worn carpet, packed rooms
filled with restless children, generally a makeshift and grimy scene.
Not now. The preeminent organization that helps the homeless in Mercer
County, HomeFront, has new digs. In the front is a reception desk
worthy of the Carnegie Center and in the back is a warehouse filled
with furniture and food. With this move it quadrupled its space yet
pays less than it did before — it owns the building, which also
holds a branch of the U.S. Post Office and a gymnastics school.
Thus HomeFront is in a particularly celebratory mood for its annual
gala "Building a Better World" on Saturday, October 19, at
7 p.m. at Princeton Day School. Cost: $150. Call 609-989-9417.
How HomeFront scored this real estate coup — and came to be a
landlord to the federal government — is directly attributable
to how Celia Bernstein (shown in the photo above) combined her for-profit
career with her do-gooder instincts. After working in commercial real
estate and volunteering for HomeFront on the side, she joined founder
Connie Mercer full time. Bernstein had the vision to realize that
HomeFront could pay less and get more by buying the building, and
she had the skills to accomplish the design and construction of the
new offices at minimum cost.
The daughter of a physician, Bernstein majored in business at the
University of Alabama at Birmingham, Class of 1989, and started out
as a commercial real estate broker in Huntsville. When she and her
husband moved to New Jersey, she went to work for Mutual of New York.
She was in charge of 160 sites — their selection, leasing, and
renovation. Meanwhile she volunteered for HomeFront and moved the
organization out of the home of founder Connie Mercer and into its
first office. After five years, says Bernstein, "Connie got a
grant to hire an operations person and came looking for me."
Just when HomeFront needed to expand, Bernstein’s husband Marlon (who
has his own realty and design/build businesses in Trenton) saw the
for-sale sign on a 42,000-foot Princeton Pike building owned by Beitel
Displays. It had a tenant on each end but no public access for the
vacant 17,000-foot warehouse in the middle. Bernstein had the vision
to put in a front door and add some windows.
The $1.4 million purchase was financed with EDA bonds and commercial
loan from Fleet Bank. "I pushed them hard and I feel we got a
good deal," says Bernstein. "To get through the headache of
the financing and the construction could easily have cost another
25 percent more."
It was a complicated transaction, to which Dan Haggerty of Stark &
Stark gave pro bono time. Renovations cost $400,000, raised in a capital
campaign led by Don Hoffman, who works for J.P. Morgan. V.J. Scozzari
& Sons was the design-build contractor and Saphire Associates the
architect. "Diversified Rack gave thousands of dollars worth of
shelving, and Home Depot donated acres of sheetrock," says Bernstein.
Saphire’s design: a large warm friendly type reception area, an area
for kids to be entertained while parents talk with case managers,
a private counseling room, a larger food pantry and an emergency provisions
"You grow up with dreams of what you think you want to do,"
says Bernstein. "I made it to New York and ran with the wolves
and now am more than satisfied to spend my talents helping those who
need the help the most."
08648. Connie Mercer, director. 609-989-9417; fax, 609-989-9423. Home
Greg Olsen sold one company, Epitaxx, for a profit and
started another, Sensors Unlimited. Now he has bought back the second
company in an effort to save it. It looks like a good move, but because
the buyback does not the intellectual property — Olsen and Sensors
will have to take a new path.
The background: In 1984 Olsen founded Epitaxx to make near-infrared
cameras, and he sold it in 1999 to JDS Uniphase for $410 million.
In 1991 he founded Sensors Unlimited to supply optical components
that can monitor the performance of dense wavelength division multiplexing
systems. He sold it in 2000 to a Sunnyvale, California-based firm,
Finisar, for $600 million, mostly in stock, and expanded his facilities
at Princeton Service Center. Though Olsen’s firm had revenues between
$20 million and $25 million that year, it is losing money now. And
with the telecom downturn, Finisar’s stock price dropped by nearly
100 percent — but apparently not before Olsen and other Sensors
Unlimited employees managed to cash in their shares.
Olsen and the company employees bought themselves back for $6.1 million
in cash, which will help erase Finisar’s nearly half a billion dollars
in losses for the last quarter. Finisar will also transfer all manufacturing
and development activities for Sensor Unlimited’s positive-intrinsic-negative
(PIN) diodes and avalanche photodiodes (APDs) to other facilities
Olsen plans to keep all 47 of Sensors’ current employees, who will
have a stake in the new firm, but has no plans to hire more.
That this sale requires Sensors to forfeit its rights to its own intellectual
property is good, says Olsen. Finisar provides gigabit fiber optic
solutions for high speed data communications, and meanwhile Sensors’
executives have identified some other potentially profitable hot spots
for their technology — the development of cameras and photodiode
arrays for military and industrial spectroscopy applications. Divested
of having to pay attention to a parent company’s needs, they can devote
all their time on the new products.
12, Princeton 08540. Gregory H. Olsen, president. 609-520-0610; fax,
Rouse Corporation, the developer of such premier mixed
use and retail projects as the city of Columbia, Maryland; the South
Street Seaport in New York City; and Harborplace in Baltimore, is
working with Wyeth to develop the former American Cyanamid property.
The 653-acre property at Route 1 and Quakerbridge Road is one of the
most desirable in the state. The developer plans to hold meetings
to give the public a chance to get in on the planning process.
— Barbara Fox
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