The Landis Group, a New York based real estate development firm, has purchased the Hyatt Place Hotel on Route 1 South at Marketfair. Under most circumstances, the purchase of a 122-room hotel would be a commercial real estate footnote. However, the Landis Group’s latest move is a reminder that the family whose ambitions have shaped the landscape of the Route 1 corridor is still very active and influential and could continue to be so well into the future.
Scott Landis, principal of the Landis Group, laid out the history of how his family’s business built three major developments along Route 1. The first was Carnegie Center, the 560-acre complex of the retro-futuristic brick and glass buildings. With 2 million square feet of office space across 18 buildings, it is still only halfway to its full potential buildout.
Carnegie Center also encompasses the 1,100 homes off of Canal Pointe Boulevard on the other side of Route 1. The second, related project is Marketfair, the shopping complex across Route 1 from the office park. Lastly is Nassau Park, the “big box” center off Quakerbridge Road anchored by Home Depot, Target, Walmart, and Wegmans.
The Landis Group was founded by Scott’s father, Alan Landis, in 1967. Alan grew up in Central Jersey between New Brunswick and Highland Park. At age 24, he started his first real estate development: Loehmann Plaza on Route 18 in East Brunswick, a shopping center anchored by the Loehmannn’s department store. (Loehmann’s stores have gone out of business, and according to news reports, East Brunswick officials are eyeing the plaza for redevelopment.)
He then built the Turnpike Plaza office complex, which is next to Loehmann’s. By the late 1970s he was thinking big, and in 1979 he began to assemble the land for what would become Carnegie Center.
The development was to be more than just a collection of office buildings. Plans for the mixed-use Carnegie Center included amphitheaters, concert venues, jogging paths, fitness centers, child care facilities, restaurants, man-made ponds, sculptures, sports facilities, and internal loop roads to keep traffic off of Route 1.
The center was considered to be very forward thinking for its time, and after much of it was completed in 1990, it won an award from the Urban Land Institute. The development included the Hyatt Regency hotel. Unlike the rest of Carnegie Center, the Hyatt Regency was not developed by Landis but was instead sold to the Pritzger family in 1981 to build themselves.
Anyone visiting Carnegie Center today will see that there are wooded areas on the property and trees lining the roads and pathways, none of which were there when the office park was built. “We had to create a tree farm in Maryland, and brought over 3,600 trees,” Scott Landis says. The development also included a 60-acre wooded wildlife sanctuary.
Scott Landis was just a child while this massive project was arising from raw farmland. He would see his father commuting from the family home in New York to the Princeton site every day, but always making sure to return home for dinner and other family functions. “My father never wanted me to feel pressure to go into the family business,” he says. “For me growing up, watching my father develop land was fascinating to me. I would ask to go to meetings. Even as a young kid at age 9 or 10, I was always fascinated that he had taken a parcel of land that had nothing on it — it was just farmland — and created these beautiful structures and environments that people were flourishing in.”
Carnegie Center would go on to win numerous other awards and influence the design of future office developments.
Scott, one of six children, studied real estate at NYU and then got his broker’s license. He worked for a real estate brokerage in Manhattan for three years but returned to the family business in 1998 when the Landis Group sold the buildings at Carnegie Center to Boston Properties. Scott began to help engineer deals, and for the first time, the company was buying existing real estate rather than building it from the ground up.
Other members of the Landis family were involved at various times in Carnegie Center. Mark Landis, Alan’s brother, was president of Scottish & York Insurance Company in 1979, when the firm consolidated its four Princeton locations into a headquarters at Carnegie Center. The 140,000-square-foot Scottish & York building became 101 Carnegie Center. Scott, however, disputes that Mark was involved in the development of Carnegie Center, and said newspaper articles indicating otherwise were inaccurate.
Alan’s younger brother, Mickey (Scott’s uncle), stayed on with Boston Properties after the sale, and helped manage Carnegie Center for them as regional manager of its Princeton office.
But for the most part, the Landis Group has been a father-son operation. “I have been very fortunate that I have a father who I’m very close with who was my best friend, and we get along very well,” Scott says. Alan now lives in Florida, but Scott says he is still involved in the business.
Landis Group now owns properties in Greenwich, Connecticut; New York; and Miami. Its other Central Jersey property includes the 1.1 million-square-foot Tower Center Office and 405-room Hilton Hotel off Turnpike Exit 9 in East Brunswick.
In New York the group owns three office buildings on Broadway, Madison Avenue, and the Avenue of the Americas. It is also developing a 710-room “Pod Hotel” with tiny rooms in Times Square.
Hotels have become a major part of the Landis Group business, with the company owning and operating more than 30 Marriott and Hilton hotels in the northeast. The newly acquired Hyatt Place will continue to operate as a Hyatt but will receive major upgrades, Scott says. Landis plans to renovate the lobby, front desk, and public spaces, buy new equipment for the fitness center, paint the exterior, and upgrade the guest rooms, conference facilities, and pool. It will be managed by the Paramount Hotel Group, in which the Landis Group is a partner.
The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Scott says it was purchased without ever going to market. “One of the things we’ve been very successful with over the years is that we’ve been very active in preemptively and proactively trying to pick up assets that don’t hit the market or go through brokerage,” he says. “We were fortunate enough that we knew this asset very well. Also, it was the biggest competitor to the Marriott Residence, which is right behind it. We liked the idea of owning and operating both hotels.”
Scott says the hotel acquisition is part of the company’s Princeton area development strategy. The Landis Group still owns 120 acres of undeveloped land in Carnegie Center. “We are really looking forward to one day completing Carnegie Center,” Scott says. “Our goal is to complete the balance of the development that’s left. It’s a process, and as we know in real estate, nothing happens overnight.”