What do you do with a corporate campus when a corporation gets smaller? It’s a question that has caught up much of the commercial real estate community in the Route 1 corridor in the last decade. Sometimes, the answer is to chop it up into small pieces and rent it out. And when that happens, usually a renovation isn’t far behind.
Scozzari Builders, an Olden Avenue-based construction company, has done several of these corporate campus facelifts and outright gut jobs in the last few years, most recently at the Merrill Lynch campus on Scotch Road.
In the late 1990s and 2000, Merrill Lynch built a 450-acre corporate campus for 6,000 employees. Less than a decade later, caught in the 2008 recession, Merrill Lynch was acquired by Bank of America. On the heels of that consolidation, the company began to shed its physical assets. In 2012 Merrill Lynch/Bank of America sold the corporate campus in Hopewell to several different groups of investors. As so many other large corporate campuses have done, the brokerage and financial services giant became a tenant of the space it formerly owned.
The 12 office buildings, laid out in a horseshoe shape, were sold to different investors for a total of $365 million. Fortress Investment Group, Sansome Pacific Properties, Normandy Real Estate Partners, and Skyline Pacific Properties all took a chunk. In 2013 Virginia-based American Real Estate Properties and Independencia Asset Management bought three of the buildings for $90 million (about $239 a square foot.)
The fact that the campus was made of multiple buildings instead of one large monolith makes it much easier to subdivide. When Merrill Lynch no longer needed space at 1800 Merrill Lynch Drive, it became available for other commercial tenants. The owner of that building, American Real Estate Properties, brought in Scozzari to spruce it up and to build a sample tenant suite on the third floor.
Leonard J. Scozzari, president, Nicholas R. Scozzari, vice president, are brothers as well as the third-generation owners of the Scozzari firm. At the Merrill Lynch campus the Scozzari firm has replaced the floor finishes, ceiling finishes, installed modern lighting, replaced the bathrooms, and generally made the place look nicer. “The goal for the owner was to attract new tenants,” Nick Scozzari says. The project cost around $1 million. Even though the building is relatively new by most standards, the lighting was already obsolete — the renovated space features energy-efficient LED lighting.
Since the new space is intended for multiple tenants, not just one, exterior “way-finding” signage needed to be installed. Each of the lobbies will feature company directories.
“The sole purpose of the project was to position them in the marketplace to compete with the Route 1 corridor/Princeton market,” Nick says, adding that the owner was trying to attract upscale tenants.
American Real Estate Partners did not respond to requests for comment.
The Merrill Lynch project joins a list of high profile renovations of old corporate headquarters. In 2013 Novo Nordisk cut the ribbon on its new headquarters — another former Merrill Lynch building on Scudders Mill Road, built in 1984. Novo spent $225 million transforming the building into a flexible workspace with open architecture. (U.S. 1, June 12, 2013.)
The next year Sensors Unlimited completed a 97,000-square-foot research and development facility for building advanced optical sensors for military and civilian use in the old G.E. facility on Carter Road. (U.S. 1, October 8, 2014.)
Siemens also recently overhauled its College Road East research center, trading in cubicles for versatile desks and open layouts in its “New Way of Work” initiative. (U.S. 1, May 6, 2015.)
Scozzari is a family business that now has the sons of both Len and Nick on board to represent the fourth generation. It is not affiliated with V.J. Scozzari and Sons at 84 Route 31 North in Pennington — that Scozzari is a cousin.
All of this corporate renovation work is just one component of the Scozzari business. The company also does work in the public sector — it just won the contract to build a $4 million municipal contract for Robbinsville — and it does real estate development, property management, and renovations of historic structures. One recent example: The expansion of All Saints Church in Princeton. The church is adding 2,000 square feet and expanding the sanctuary’s altar area and choir space.
“We are matching the existing finishes, with real stone on the outside,” said Nick Scozzari, vice president of Scozzari Builders. “We need to match the finishes and the lines. The windows design, although new, matches the existing and the interior will have the same finishes with a cherry wood floor, tongue and groove ceiling and trim and molding.” When the project is complete this fall, it will look like it’s been there since the church was first constructed in 1960.
In the last few years, Scozzari has done projects at Farmers Insurance in Flemington, MD Advantage on Franklin Corner Road, Merck Pharmaceutical, and the Ellsworth Center in West Windsor. In 2012 Scozzari did an extraordinary overhaul on the ETS campus on Rosedale Road, gutting and rebuilding a 90,000 square foot, 90-room hotel and conference center in 88 days.
Another not so old office building getting a re-purposing by Scozzari is 3450 Princeton Pike, originally the home of Gillespie Advertising and later MRM Worldwide, which moved to 105 Carnegie Center in 2012. Now the building is the site of a 16,000 square-foot reconfiguration and repurposing for Wishing Well, Mercer County’s first adult care center for 200 senior clients. The center, with expected to have a staff of about 20, will occupy 14,800 square feet of the space. “It’s reconfiguring existing space, and adding large bathrooms and activity spaces,” says Len Scozzari.
Plans include nursing stations, a treatment and nutritional counseling space, a salon, recreational and activity spaces, and a large dining room. Construction work is in progress and is expected to be completed in this fall.
There’s no reason to believe renovation won’t continue to be a popular option for corporate campuses, given its many advantages. “You’re staying within the same building footprint, so fewer approvals are required,” Len Scozzari said. “There’s also speed — and cost.”
Scozzari Builders Inc., 1891 North Olden Avenue Extension, Trenton 08638-3105; 609-989-1221; fax, 609-989-1262. Leonard J. Scozzari, president. www.scozzari.com.