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These stories by Li Wang and Bill Loguidice were published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on October 14, 1998. All rights reserved.
On Emmons Drive: Turning Old Space Into New Space
The brochure of William Barish's Commercial Property Network Inc. reads "we have a place for your company." And sometimes in order to meet that promise, space has to be created -- especially if that space is near the low vacancy Route 1 market. The latest commercial property Barish is trying to market shows that even most plain looking of properties may find multiple suitors if it's in the right location.
Tucked behind the Pep Boys auto supply store on Route 1 is a small office center known as Princeton Commerce Center, located at 29 Emmons Drive. The one-level, brick-faced buildings built in the mid-70s look outdated, and its new owners are the first to admit there is lots of work to be done.
"We need to invest almost $400,000 just for the beautification program," says Barish, whose firm holds a small percentage of the property's ownership. "When that work is done, it will be a very nice place to be." The work includes renovation of each space to the tenant's specific needs, plus new paving and lot striping, new and modernized roof systems, a new directory and building signage, landscaping improvements, and a general upgrade of the total exterior.
And even though the beautification of 29 Emmons Drive is still in the works, Barish says he has already signed a 5,300-square-foot lease, a 2,000-square-foot lease, a 6,100-square-foot letter of intent, and a renewal for another tenant planning to double its existing space. The office park is currently about 60 percent occupied.
Space at 29 Emmons Drive can range from as small as 750 square feet to free standing buildings of 6,000 to 10,000 square feet. Space is being offered at $18.50 to $19 a square foot, compared to rental rates in Class A buildings along Route 1 from $23 to $27 a foot.
"I think they made a good buy," says broker Gerard Fennelly. "Properties like 29 Emmons Drive are ideal opportunities to take some lower level properties and turn them into something that is competitive in the marketplace. The market is so tight right now, (Barish) should be able to attract tenants fairly easily if he does it right."
Mark Hill, director of leasing at Hilton Realty, says "we see more and more that these types of properties are being put on the market by commercial developers. It's a natural progression since there is so much demand for space along Route 1."
Barish had been involved with the selling of 29 Emmons Drive in 1987. Back then it was sold for $6.5 million to a New York investment group. A year later it was sold again for $7.5 million to a Connecticut investment group.
A recession, an overbuilt Princeton office market, and insufficient marketing and management led the property to a state of disrepair, said Barish. "About a year ago it was foreclosed by the mortgage holder," he says. "So it was a prime opportunity to capitalize on a project in an outstanding location."
Harry Levine, owner of Princeton-based Carodan Corp., has the most money invested in the property. Neither Levine nor Barish would reveal how much the group paid for the property. The third party involved in the project is the property manager, Meridian Property Services.
"The main partner of the project, prior to this acquisition, called on me to help him with his due diligence and his analysis of the property," Barish says. "I had let him know that I had sold it and made many leases in it and that I was very familiar with it and that I wanted to be a partner in it."
"The reason I got involved is I recognized a growing demand for office space on Route 1," says Levine, who predicts that his group will spend "well over a million dollars" on the complete renovation of the property.
The owners of Princeton Commerce Center hope the office park's large parking lot, proximity to eight restaurants, two hotels, a golf course and two shopping centers will be significant draws. Meanwhile Barish's Commercial Property Network, at 600 Alexander Road, will market the property.
"We don't do the largest transactions," says Barish. "We probably do more transactions than any other firm in the area. We are very active in terms of canvassing and developing new business contacts and following up on a regular basis."
Barish grew up in the Princeton area. He didn't know that he would end up in commercial real estate when he graduated from Syracuse University in 1980 with a degree in communications and a minor in psychology. He worked at his father's advertising agency, Mort Barish Associates, but discovered that advertising was not his life calling.
"Basically, I saw that (his father) really enjoyed what he did and that's how I should feel about my job," Barish says. He tried his hand at broadcasting, at Syracuse University, WPRB in Princeton and WBUB in Trenton. "I was a jazz and blues DJ at 'PRB. It's a really tough business," Barish says.
One night, over dinner with a real estate attorney friend and a developer friend, Barish decided to make a career out of commercial real estate. "I like making deals. I like transactions. It's a competitive business and I enjoy that," he said.
His first entry into the business was at Helmsley Spears in New York, a job he held for eight years. Barish, a self-professed "gym rat," met his current business partner, Paul Goldman, on the basketball court. They founded Commercial Property Network in 1988.
The company's major clients include Princeton University Press, Bell Atlantic, Carter Wallace, Princeton Partners, Princeton Securities, Management Planning, Meeker Sharkey, Nassau Broadcasting Company, the Hillier Group, and Voxware.
"I bring a very direct, aggressive, and active follow-up approach," says Barish. "I can understand numbers and I thrive on feedback and if people say no, I continue to push the envelope to try to develop new business opportunities."
One of the deals Barish most fondly recalls is his work with the Sarnoff Corporation spinoff, Sarnoff Real Time. "The approach was to develop a relationship with Sarnoff to maintain awareness of what's going on with them," he said. "I had dealt with them for about a year and a half, with three different people on an ongoing basis."
So when Sarnoff needed space to establish Sarnoff Real Time, Barish was ready with a property at 301 College Road. "From initial contact to closure, it was probably three years," said Barish. "That's a long time between drinks."
-- Li Wang
How does a small commercial real estate firm, specializing in tenant representation, compete against other firms that are either larger or have merged with regional and national brokerages. One way, says Victor Murray, principal of the Victor Company at 116 Village Boulevard, is through creative use of cutting edge technology.
This year Murray has added a new twist to a standard piece of commercial real estate collateral. Instead of preparing the usual office market study of leasing activity in the greater Princeton area, Murray noted the limited vacancies and the consequent decrease in lateral moves and new leases. So instead of focussing on past leasing activity, the company provided detailed information on what is planned in speculative office development. And instead of presenting the material in standard printed form, Murray developed an interactive CD-ROM.
"As these tenants are barraged with owners and listing brokers looking to fill their respective projects, our clients find that the best way to identify, compare, evaluate, and negotiate a long term lease is through exclusive tenant representation," Murray says. An effective way to starting this relationship is graphically depicting sites, floor plans, facts, and figures, which is where the multimedia capabilities of the CD becomes particularly useful.
Murray cites the advantage of the CD medium: it's portable, can easily be shared with others, and through read/write capabilities can quickly be updated or customized to a particular tenant's needs.
Using off-the-shelf software applications such as Corel Presentations from Corel WordPerfect Suite, Murray is able to develop the studies quickly and experiment with different designs. The finished presentation is output via Corel Presentations Show on the Go player, which creates a single file that can be run from any standard Windows 95 or NT PC. No installation is necessary to review the study, as it runs directly off the disc.
For clients without CD drives, smaller site presentations can be made to run on standard 3-inch disks or sent via E-mail.
The major hardware used for gathering data is a digital camera (from $150), which serves multiple input functions, including capturing photos, renderings, maps, sites, and floor plans. A high-speed CD Writeable Drive (less than $300) is used for output on CD-R media (a special writeable CD available for less than $2 each), which, when finished, works in practically any standard CD drive.
While there are still obvious typos and bugs that cause crashes, the early impression of the CD, still going through a testing and feedback phase, is favorable. Murray's presentation of Princeton area development sites is particularly interesting. While there is an automated version of this presentation, the interaction inherent in controlling the direction in the manual format is a better utilization of interactive media.
Introductory text establishes what is to follow -- something that is a welcome and common feature throughout all of the presentations. After going through other introductory graphs, charts, and site maps, the main map screen appears. At this point you are able to click on a site of interest to uncover additional information, which might include square footage, photos of the site, and conceptual drawings. Since these are inherently slide shows, options such as moving back and forth between slides and activating a virtual pen (for on-screen annotations) are available via a right mouse button.
While each CD will be tailored to an individual client, other elements found on the review CD could become standards: Murray's resume, Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) measurements (the generally accepted standard for measuring office space), and an explanation of tenant representation -- all of which are interactive to some degree and contain descriptions for even the most novice viewer.
The Victor Company also had a presence on the Internet (http://www.victor-co.com) long before most competitors. It would seem natural that the CD studies would find their way there as well, for consumption by a wider audience. This is not the case, however. "The delivery of market studies on our home page would deprive us of the opportunity to meet directly with tenants and enjoy the interaction that is necessary in representing them," Murray says. "The CD-ROM format overcomes this."
While Murray enjoys being on the forefront of the information age, he admits he is caught between a generation of those less inclined to embrace computers and those who thrive on them. Technology has been a long time fascination, but Murray's interest in real estate dates back to his childhood in Pittsburgh.
Murray's father worked for a commercial office developer and his mother was a residential sales broker. "My father would bring home floor plans of the high rise office building that he represented," he says, "After coloring the backs, I found the designs, details, and plans on the blueprint side far more interesting."
Later, as a middle child caught between conservative and liberal brothers in the contentious 1960s, Murray learned there were two sides to every issue. "Real estate brokering requires a great deal of similar skills, but with a concern for the welfare of both parties, since they still have to live with each other," Murray says.
Murray earned a bachelor's in real estate from Penn State in 1976, and continued his education through courses at the Institute of Real Estate Management. From 1976 to 1984, Murray worked for firms in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Princeton. In 1984, he decided to remain in the Princeton area and open his own firm.
"Much has changed within our industry and the way we do business. Unlike the mid-size, local brokerage houses that have merged with other firms, we have managed to stay independent," Murray says. "Our firm has since done more transactions in other cities and we have looked into network affiliation with tenant representatives at these locations to share resources and services. This is an area where we believe that today's communication technologies are making the greatest strides -- connectivity."
"Although negotiating real estate transactions is a skill that may not require new technologies, to effectively negotiate you must be properly equipped with accurate and current information," Murray says, "My proactive approach to new technologies was born out of necessity and a belief that to remain competitive, you must either do it better or do it differently than your competition. Through technology and personal interaction, I feel we can do both."
-- Bill Loguidice
The engineering firm has recently taken space at Lawrence Executive Center, 3120-40 Princeton Pike, a building owned by Hilton Realty. John Buschman represented the tenant. The firm does bridge, highway, railroad design, construction inspection and management, geotechnical engineering, and highway lighting design and surveying
This company that makes fine printing and reprographic papers has its building on the market for $1.795 million so that it can move to a larger building in South Jersey, more central to its market. The building is under contract, says Stephen M. Segal.
The venture capital investment firm has moved from 221 Nassau Street to the Amboy National Bank building in Rocky Hill. It does early and seed stage financing.
This analytical service company will take 15,000 square feet at 104 Windsor Center, owned by Brandywine Realty Group. Karen Anderson from Steve Segal's group represented the tenant. It specializes in the characterization of surfaces, thin films, and high purity materials
Hilton Realty, through S&S Investments, has bought 43 acres in Ewing on Sylvia Street for light industrial development. The site, known as Enterprise Park, has 90,000 square feet of single story flex space but could have up to 400,000 square feet. Sab Russo of CB Commercial represented both seller and buyer, even though the buyer is also a commercial realtor.
January 1, 2000, marks the move out of Mathematica, which plans to vacate 54,000 square feet here, says Bob Morford of the Garibaldi Group. He has listed the Class A space at Morgan Lane for a sublease effective January 1, 2000, through December 31, 2002, at a price of $23.50 gross. The firm does public policy research and surveys for federal and state governments as well as private-sector clients, and it also has offices at 311-H Enterprise Drive.
Mathematica's decision on where to move was not yet final and Morford declined comment on the outcome. "We have to respect the process," says Morford.
The financial group moved last month from Office Concierge at 993 Lenox Drive to 4,000 feet at 997 Lenox Drive, owned by Brandywine Realty. The tenant was represented by Tommy Romano of Buschman Jackson-Cross.
The office furniture firm, which recently acquired Valentine's, is buying 12 acres in Branchburg, says Steve Segal, to build new office and warehouse center. Its current headquarters is nearby in Branchburg.
The Bryn Mawr-based telecommuting firm has a temporary 63-seat office in Capital Plaza Shopping Center, but will open a 140-seat regional headquarters for well over 200 workers on November 9. It offers a paid training period plus bonuses that can total $10 per hour.
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com -- the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.