Alan Landis, the real estate developer who built Carnegie Center, Princeton MarketFair, and Nassau Park in Princeton and Tower Center in East Brunswick, died April 14 at the age of 75.
Landis’ real estate career, which began in 1967, left an unmistakable mark on the landscape of the Route 1 corridor. His most ambitious project, Carnegie Center, was a significant departure from the typical suburban corporate campus that was being built in the 1980s. Rather than just a collection of office buildings, the 560-acre Carnegie Center was full of amenities for the people who worked at its buildings. The development included amphitheaters, concert venues, jogging paths, fitness centers, childcare facilities, restaurants, man-made ponds, sculptures, sports facilities, and internal loop roads to keep traffic off of Route 1.
Carnegie Center began with a family connection, and different members of the Landis family were involved throughout its creation and operation. Alan Landis grew up in Central New Jersey in the New Brunswick /Highland Park area. He was one of the six children of Morris Landis, an accountant, and Raye Landis, an art dealer. Landis attended the Hun School and earned a bachelor’s in accounting from New York University. At age 24 he left his accounting practice and built his first real estate project, Loehmann Plaza on Route 18 in East Brunswick.
Alan’s brother Mark was president of the Scottish & York Insurance Company in 1979 when the firm was seeking to consolidate its four Princeton locations into a headquarters at Carnegie Center. That 140,000-square-foot building, designed by Ray Bowers, became 101 Carnegie Center. In 1980 Alan Landis bought out Bowers’ interest in the project, and he and Bill King became the new owners.
But Landis brought more than just money to the project: he also brought a vision.
Part of Alan Landis’ genius at Carnegie Center was recognizing that the suburban office center could benefit from some urban touches. As he told reporters back in the early 1980s, as the center was taking shape: “It’s an urban design in a suburban setting.”
Landis hired notable architect Hugh Stubbins of Boston to design some of the buildings. Stubbins, whose credits included the CitiGroup Center in Manhattan, the Reagan Presidential Library in California, and Yokohama’s Landmark Tower, the tallest building in Japan, in turn commissioned William H. Whyte to join the team. Whyte, the author and self-taught urban anthropologist, helped design the open spaces and pathways between the buildings.
As Whyte wrote in his 1988 book, “City: Rediscovering the Center,” Landis also “had anthropologist Setha Low of the University of Pennsylvania study several suburban complexes. She found that of all sports the most favored was walking, after lunch especially. She also found that there were no places to walk safely. It had to be on the roads; there were neither paths nor pavements. It hadn’t occurred to the developers and architects to provide them.” But Carnegie Center, Whyte continued, “applied the lessons. There are many paths and alternate paths and places to pause. There is an attractive outdoor dining place and a lagoon to circle. Distances are marked. Knowing how far you’ve walked, apparently, is an incentive.”
In 1981 Carnegie Center hit a milestone when the Pritzger family built a Hyatt Regency there. Typically Hyatt Regencies were located in urban downtowns, so getting one built on what had been a sod farm a few years before was a major coup.
“It proved to be a huge amenity for Carnegie Center,” King told U.S. 1 in a 2015 interview. “A lot of people who came to Princeton found it easier to stay out on Route 1 than come in and stay in town. It also provided a place for people to go and have lunch, additional meeting rooms that were much larger than what we had available, and rooms in close proximity to offices we were building.”
To this day, Carnegie Center is still only partially built out, with 18 buildings totaling 2 million square feet of space having been constructed. When many of Carnegie’s major elements were in place in 1990, it won numerous awards and proved to be influential in the real estate business. Over the years Landis won awards from the Urban Land Institute, the American and National Planning Association, and the American Institute of Architects.
Alan’s younger brother, Micky, said both Alan and Mark played critical roles at the beginning of Carnegie Center. “They were the driving forces,” he said.
Carnegie Center was innovative not for being a mixed-use community, which was already an established concept, but for how it sought to meet the needs of the people working there.
“I remember Alan saying a long time ago that people spend more time at the workplace than they spend at home awake,” Micky Landis says. “You want to make the workplace as inviting and comforting and attractive as possible and to include places to eat and places to relax,” he says. (The influence of Alan and Mark’s artistically inclined mother, Raye Landis, can be seen in the sculpture gallery at 200 Carnegie Center.)
Landis was not the only one building on Route 1 at that time. Carnegie Center competed for tenants with Princeton University’s Forrestal Center, which had a very different philosophy. Where Carnegie Center had clusters of buildings in easy reach of each other, Forrestal Center properties were isolated, separated from one another by thick woods. (Trees are also part of the Carnegie Center landscape, which includes a 60-acre wildlife sanctuary. The developers had to create a tree farm in Maryland with 3,600 trees to supply the campus.)
But Carnegie Center still lacked an efficient solution for services like restaurants, haircuts, and shoe repair. The answer would be provided by Alan Landis’ next big project, which was MarketFair on the other side of Route 1 from Carnegie Center, and which would complement Carnegie’s office space with a retail establishments. Together with various business partners, Landis built out MarketFair while continuing to develop Carnegie Center.
Once again, Landis found himself in competition as Forrestal Village was being built at the same time. Forrestal Village banked on upscale retail stores, while MarketFair was anchored by a movie theater, a type of establishment that Forrestal had snubbed.
The subsequent success of MarketFair and the financial struggles of Forrestal Village vindicated Landis’ instincts.
“He had a great sense of real estate principles,” Micky Landis said. “When the time came for building Princeton Forrestal Village, many people felt it would be the greatest thing since sliced bread, but Alan thought it was going to fail — which it did, two or three times. He thought it had bad access to and from the major road, the parking was too far from the retail … it just went on and on. It turned out he was absolutely correct. He even suggested perhaps they should have put more money into it and put a glass dome over it, and perhaps it would have worked out that way.”
“He certainly knew his real estate.”
In 1988, after MarketFair was complete, Landis bought the land for Nassau Park, which would be home to numerous “big box” stores anchored by Wal-Mart and Home Depot. In 1997 he built Hyatt Place, a lower cost complement to the full scale Hyatt at Carnegie Center. Two years later he followed up by building the Marriott Residence Inn beside MarketFair, responding to demand by corporate executives and employees for a longer-stay product.
In 1997 Landis sold his interest in Carnegie Center to Boston Properties, and Micky stayed at Carnegie Center to manage the property as senior vice president and regional manager for Boston Properties. He retired in 2015.
Today Landis Properties, based in Manhattan, is run by Alan’s son, Scott, and owns properties in Connecticut, New York, and Miami. It also owns the 1.1 million square-foot Tower Center Office and the 405-room Hilton Hotel off Turnpike Exit 9 in East Brunswick. In 2016 Landis Group returned to the Route 1 corridor by buying the Hyatt Place in MarketFair. Hotels make up a large part of the Landis portfolio. Alan had moved to Florida but Scott said he remained involved in the business.
Alan Landis was in the sports business as well as real estate and was part owner of the Minnesota Vikings and the New York Yankees, and also owned a share in the New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets, Barclays Center, the New Jersey Devils, and YES Network (the Yankees media company) and was a board member at Boston Properties.
He was also involved with charities and education. According to his obituary, he was an honoree of the New Jersey Israel Bonds campaign, a member of the advisory board of the New Jersey Chapter of the National Prevent Child Abuse Organization, a member of the executive committee for the Foundation Fighting Blindness and a recipient of the Foundation Fighting Blindness Humanitarian Award. He was also an emeritus member of the board of the Hun School, where he ran the school’s athletic hall of fame and, together with his wife, Linda, established the Landis Family Fine Arts Center at the school.