Vision's Biggest Lessons from 67 Whippany Road
Culminating a five and a half year initiative of successfully repurposing and redeveloping 67 Whippany Road in Hanover, Vision Real Estate Partners and Rubenstein Partners recently sold the remaining 14-acre parcel and building to Salus Government Properties for $95M.
Vision co-founder and managing partner Sam Morreale tells us the lessons it’s learned and how it will impact future development.
First, a little background: the JV purchased the 194-acre campus, formerly used by Alcatel-Lucent, in 2010. Before a series of mergers and acquisitions, the campus had been home to Bell Laboratories, which operated from the campus from the 1920s through 2009.
When 2,100 employees moved to Murray Hill, they left behind 15 vacant low-rise buildings totaling 1.4M SF. The JV had a plan to redevelop the campus into a mixed-use, live/work/play project, determining that two of the buildings could be repurposed into more modern facilities after upgrading their inferior glass lines and dated utility and services infrastructure.
“It had underlying zoning that allowed flexibility in redevelopment,” Sam says. “It was a unique opportunity to create a live/work/play opportunity in the suburbs, because you can’t get this much scale elsewhere. We could have proceeded with hospitality, residential, seniors housing and retail.”
Instead, the property turned into an ideal opportunity for two other corporate users, and the JV halted the mixed-use approval process.
MetLife became interested in the property, signing a build-to-suit lease in 2014. Vision and Rubenstein then shifted development gears to building a 185k SF office building called One MetLife Way, above. Neighbor Bayer Healthcare purchased the remaining 180 acres in two separate transactions, where the JV expanded an existing building to create a new 675k SF facility for the pharma giant.
Today, the former Alcatel-Lucent campus has nearly 1.1M SF developed and approved for MetLife and Bayer, replacing the obsolete infill office buildings with Class-A, institutional space.
One of the biggest lessons Vision learned was that as a developer, you need to be able to pivot your strategy. “While the market wanted more residential, a corporation also saw it as a strategic location to develop a unique property,” Sam says. “So you need to be nimble and understand there are multiple opportunities to execute a business plan.”
In retrospect, he says there could have been some live/work/play elements in addition to the corporate real estate. So as it looks forward, Vision is particularly taking a need for amenities and experiences into mind.
For instance, it’s already executed that strategy at the multimillion-dollar adaptive reuse of a former powerhouse structure at The Crossings at Jefferson Park, which now has a stand-alone amenities center for tenants at the 525k SF, Class-A office campus in Whippany.
Aptly named The Powerhouse, the building (above) opened last month and features enhanced gourmet food services, a multi-function lounge, a conference room and a health and wellness center.
It’s also a strategy the JV will take as it moves forward with upgrading Warren Corporate Center, above, a 176-acre site in Warren that Vision and Rubenstein purchased earlier this year for $136M. The campus contains 820k SF of Class-A offices across five, four-story buildings, and Sam says the campus will include a beautiful fountain, an outdoor amphitheater, an indoor auditorium and other experiences for tenants.
The firm continues to seek similar opportunities to redevelop key infill locations with infrastructure in place and significant land. Notwithstanding any shift in the tide, Sam says New Jersey continues to have strong corporate interest in locations concentric to New York City.
In particular, there's interest from companies that want to take their space to the next level by creating, as Sam calls them, a “campus within a campus,” with amenity and experience-filled spaces. These could include bikes, walking paths, connectivity to parks, food courts or fitness centers—features often found in academic settings.
Sam reports that Vision has several acquisitions pending nearing 1M SF.
“I’m bullish on New Jersey, and the appropriate commercial office space will continue to foster growth within the state," he says. "We’re excited to be part of that future.”