Celebrating his 20th anniversary in the commercial real estate business, Bill Barish, owner of the Commercial Property Network, has just completed one of his most challenging transactions.

Barish called last week on the way home from the closing to report that 693 Alexander Road has been sold, and will soon be occupied by its new owner, Princeton University. The 49,000-square-foot building is familiar to anyone who regularly passes the Princeton Hyatt or travels Alexander Road to or from the Princeton Junction train station. The low-rise sand colored building began life in the 1970s as a manufacturing facility for Rosenblad Corporation, a heat transfer company that is now located in Amelia Island, Florida.

The building sits in what appears to be an ideal location, right near the entrance to Route 1. Yet it has been empty for a long time.

“Oh, it’s been five years, maybe six years, that it’s been empty,” says Barish. He is intimately familiar with the building, having sold it to Compass Development 10 or 11 years ago. For Compass, the venture into commercial real estate was unusual, and it did not go smoothly. Compass is owned by Princeton resident Jalsa Urubshurow. His primary business is residential framing and building residential dwellings. He is also the owner of Cranbury-based Nomadic Expeditions (www.nomadicexpeditions.com), which organizes and leads tours of Mongolia.

Compass leased 693 Alexander Road to the Chauncey Group, an Educational Testing Service spin-off that was later called CapStar, but that entity never occupied the building. “It was sold, and then it was sold again,” explains Barish. Finally, Compass and the Chauncey Group negotiated an end to the lease.

Compass’ plans for the building changed as the business climate, and its own business, changed through the years, says Barish. A key to finding a buyer for the building became keeping on top of its owner’s motivation for selling.

There was interest in 693 Alexander Road from many potential occupants, but, says Barish, once Princeton University emerged as an interested buyer, he put all of his energy into making a sale to the university happen.

Princeton was represented by Peter Dodds of Morford & Dodds Realty of 163 Nassau Street. The university, which has been on the lookout for office space beyond its downtown campus, also broke ground on a 120,000-square-foot office building on the west side of Route 1 this month. The latter building, under construction on Canal Pointe Boulevard, will house information technology workers; it is expected that the Alexander Road will also house back office employees, thereby freeing up more space on the main campus for faculty and teaching staff.

On the anniversary of two decades in business, Barish says he has learned that commercial real estate is all about building relationships and then keeping on top of them. It can take years to build a relationship, he has found, and then it can take years more before a need to buy or sell commercial real estate comes up.

Barish’s office does 50 to 60 transactions a year, and he does about 20 to 30 of those. “Some people only do a few big deals a year,” he says, “but I’m a deal junkie. I do deals of all sizes.”

Despite his affinity and affection for commercial real estate, a notoriously rough business, Barish didn’t start out in the field. A Princeton resident since 1964, and a graduate of Princeton High School who went on to graduate from Syracuse University (Class of 1980), Barish started out doing broadcast journalism. He then went to work for his father’s Princeton marketing firm, Mort Barish Associates.

His father now lives in Seattle, after having closed the business to travel. “He had a 35-foot sailboat,” the son says. “He spent four or five years in the Caribbean and then four or five years in Europe.”

Barish, meanwhile, took a job with Helmsley-Spear in the early 1980s, found that he enjoyed commercial real estate, and went on to open his own company in 1988. That was just about the time that a frothy economy headed into a serious downturn. “My timing was excellent,” Barish deadpans. “I came in an hour after the downturn started.”

Despite overbuilding that collided with a studied lack of interest in Princeton area commercial space, his new company thrived. He now works with Al Toto, whose family owned Toto’s Market in Princeton, Cosmo Iacavazzi, a former Princeton University football player who has a background in Wall Street and politics, and Kevin Coleman.

The business is independent, despite a trend toward consolitation in his industry. “We have a niche here in Princeton,” he says. “We know all of the owners and all of the brokers.”

This knowledge, along with that habit of constantly nurturing relationships, generally works out.

Barish cites, for example, architecture firm CUH2A’s move from Alexander Road to new offices in Lawrence. “I had worked with them for 20 years,” he says. “I got in touch with them three years before their lease was up.” He knew the firm would have an exacting set of requirements for their new offices. He prepared a list of every suitable space, but, he says, “I knew what they would want.”

He guessed 1000 Lenox Road, and that is where CUH2A ended up moving. “They didn’t do it because I recommended it,” says Barish. Rather, he says, his knowledge of both the firm and of the market led him to just the right space.

Bringing just the right tenant or buyer to a space that is ideal for them is a challenge that Barish continues to relish 20 years after starting his company. It was a bigger challenge than usual with 693 Alexander Road, but that made the match all the more satisfying.

Commercial Property Network Inc., 29 Emmons Drive, Suite A-10, Princeton 08540; 609-921-8844; fax, 609-924-9739. William Barish, managing partner, broker. Home page: www.CPNRealestate.com.

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