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Developers like Prism are turning outdated, out-of-the-way monoliths into much-sought-after spaces
October 10, 2018
Original Article

Real estate developer Edwin Cohen has been one of the biggest proponents of unlocking the potential of the state's aged, sometimes vacant and forgotten suburban megastructures. 

"You had something like the (shuttered Hoffmann-La Roche) campus, (it) was a 116-acre site that was gated for many years; no one really knew what stood behind the gates," he said.

Cohen is now finding success there.

As principal partner at Prism Capital Partners, Cohen is guiding the ON3 project. That's a massive redevelopment of the former pharmaceutical site on the border of Nutley and Clifton, where Hoffmann-La Roche left a $10 million hole in the local economy when it ceased operations there in 2013.

The project, which aims to restore a missing taxpayer base through its completion, is nearly finished with its $10 million first phase of work, refreshing aspects of the dated structure that Cohen said would cost a fortune to replicate in new construction.

Besides being a practitioner of the redevelopment of New Jersey's older suburban structures, Cohen's a purveyor of the oft-referenced "live, work, play" trend in development today, a concept of transplanting urban-like environments to the suburbs. 

He thinks the ON3 project is slated to be one of the best examples of that dynamic.

"It's a trend that people talk about a lot, but often have had a hard time truly creating," he said. "We had an absolutely ideal piece of property to do that with here. And we had a zeal to make it happen."  

The ON3 redevelopment is located just nine miles from Manhattan on Route 3, which Cohen will remind you didn't even exist when the structure first was built. It aims to integrate office and research facilities with recreational, hospitality and wellness options.

It was key, Cohen added, to have an overwhelming amount of amenities built into the structure.

"With unemployment at a low number, tenants have to provide substantial amenities to attract new labor," he said. "That's what this property has, over and above most in the marketplace."

Put simply: Developers that don't seize on the opportunity for creating rich amenities in the suburban zones won't remain competitive for high-quality tenants in the future, he said.

The ON3 project's anchor tenant is the combined Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at Seton Hall University, which will be the state's first new private medical school in four decades. It has also already signed on the Ralph Lauren Corp. and Quest Diagnostics as tenants, among others.

"We are also right now negotiating with two or three international companies to become prospective tenants here," Cohen said. "There's so much demand by high-profile tenants, and that's feeding additional interest."