At a recent BISNOW conference held at Bell Works in Holmdel, two panels examined revitalizing the Garden State’s commercial real estate assets and approaches for reviving suburban economic and real estate development.
The initial discussion examined two developments in Newark and South Kearney, identifying both municipalities as new additions to the Garden State’s Gold Coast.
The second panel’s first topic spotlighted carving out metroburbs (an urban core in a suburban setting) in the state.
“Offering a slice of surbanity, like Bell Works for example, represents a shift – freeing professionals from the shackles of a cubicle and the mind-numbing effect of office parks,” said Ralph Zucker, president of Somerset Development. “Developing a center rich in live/work features creates an intangible, unique experience.”
Michael Seeve, president of Mountain Development Corp. (MDC), commented, “You can do so much with buildings holistically; with design, inside and out, branding, and finding tenants whose shared use will be complimentary and accretive. As a craftsman, a developer, we define a building’s purpose and seek out specific tenants whose needs it will or can satisfy. At MDC we work hard to acquire and develop high quality assets for large and small users, in good towns with strong schools and rich communities.”
Seeve offered some lease up strategies. According to the industry leader, the first tenant who commits to a new or repositioning project validates it and can become an integral part of the property’s branding. “Attracting and securing the first customer is critical,” explained Seeve. “The aim is to collaborate with the tenant and get their leadership to buy into their vision of the project and then, by their commitment, share their endorsement with others. Once a lead player commits, especially the right user, the other will follow.”
When selecting sites for possible acquisition, Seeve explained the need to act as an architect. He stressed that it is imperative to analyze the surroundings and assess other properties to learn both from what has succeeded and what is missing and draw inspiration. He noted that New Jersey residents are affluent, highly educated and knowledgeable, sophisticated about work environments and will be supportive of high quality new projects. He addressed the need to identify missing services and amenities and provide them in a property to meet tenant needs.
The panelists discussed the trend of New Jersey businesses relocating. Both Zucker and Seeve agreed that pricing can be the “attraction device,” to secure tenants but that creating a special work environment can be even more alluring. “A basic human truism is that people get excited about going to work to interface with other people and make things happen,” added Seeve. “The right environment can really inspire people to do their best work.” When previewing properties, the developers acknowledged the need to have ongoing dialogue with architects and other key professionals to advise ownership of the best ways to optimize interior and exterior design options. According to Seeve, once a property is ready to lease up, brokers are the key to making clients aware of opportunities and articulating to them what differentiates them.
“Having a building’s repositioning and restoration solidified wins the hearts and minds of tenants,” said Zucker.
The “fireside chat” concluded with a talk about technology contributing to the “world’s flatness” – a concept derived from author Thomas L. Freidman’s book, “The World Is Flat”. The advent of driverless cars, according to Seeve and Zucker, will bring outlying communities closer and make them more accessible and will reduce some of the criticalness for prospective tenants of mass transit for their commuting needs. The developers cited Uber and Telsa as pioneering alternate forms of transportation.