Sensors’ Buy Back

Cyanamid Site News

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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."

HomeFront, 1880 Princeton Avenue, Lawrenceville

08648. Connie Mercer, director. 609-989-9417; fax, 609-989-9423. Home


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Sensors’ Buy Back

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

within Finisar.

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.

Sensors Unlimited Inc., 3490 Route 1, Building

12, Princeton 08540. Gregory H. Olsen, president. 609-520-0610; fax,


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Cyanamid Site News

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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