The 185,000-square-foot MetLife Investments headquarters in the Whippany section of Hanover — Courtesy: Vision Real Estate Partners
By Joshua Burd
Fresh off the opening of MetLife Investments’ gleaming new headquarters in Hanover, the state-of-the-art office building has a new owner.
For the sellers of the 185,000-square-foot property, it’s the conclusion to one of New Jersey’s biggest redevelopment stories in recent years.
The firms, Vision Real Estate Partners and Rubenstein Partners, developed the building as the last piece of a 194-acre redevelopment of an obsolete Alcatel-Lucent complex. The rebuilt campus also includes Bayer HealthCare’s 675,000-square-foot East Coast headquarters, which the joint venture sold to the pharmaceutical giant after delivering the property in 2013.
The partnership has now sold the MetLife Investments building to Salus Government Properties for an undisclosed price. The deal effectively ends the development team’s work at the site after more than five years, resulting in what many see as a case study in New Jersey.
“How many of these towns are (facing) a corporation that’s exiting 50 acres, 60 acres, 100 acres and they have a ratable that just goes ‘poof?’ ” said Ross Chomik, managing partner with Vision Real Estate Partners. “We came back in and replaced it. This is the true intersection of win-win-win — a win for the developer, a win for the tenant and a win for the town.”
The deal comes about a month after MetLife Investments opened the doors to the Class A building, one of the state’s rare build-to-suit office project in recent years. The Fortune 100 company has signed a 15-year lease for the property and will house some 850 employees there, providing a modern workspace and amenities designed to attract the best talent.
All told, it’s an attractive opportunity for any landlord. And while Chomik noted that Vision Real Estate Partners, which is based in Mountain Lakes, is a long-term holder for many of its properties, “sometimes we capitalize on great execution of construction and the credit of the tenant.”
Add in the fact that, among real estate investors, the demand for headquarters properties is soaring.
“The market right now for these net lease buyers is as frothy, possibly, as it’s ever been,” Chomik said. “When you take all that into account, it made complete 100 percent sense for us to execute and move on.”
The MetLife building sits on 14 acres in the Whippany section of Hanover. Nearby is a 94-acre tract housing the Bayer complex, along with 86 acres of undeveloped land that the builders sold to the German pharma company earlier this year.
The campus looks far different from what local officials in Hanover were left with seven years ago: a 1.35 million-square-foot, 15-building site vacated by a longtime corporate anchor. The property was shuttered after the merger between Lucent and Alcatel, which moved thousands of employees to a complex in New Providence.
The development team acquired the site in 2010. Less than three years later, Vision and Rubenstein had stripped two of the former Lucent buildings to their steel frames and rebuilt them for Bayer, which was consolidating four regional offices into Whippany.
The MetLife deal was announced in April 2015. And while Chomik noted that the developers were able to stay within the zoning for office space, he said they would not have been able to achieve what stands there today without a willing partner in the township.
“It’s about cooperation between the developers and the town, and both sides have to be open-minded,” he said.
He added that the project “put us on the map, (but) we’re not done by any means.” The project has “definitely opened up doors,” he said, noting that the firm is now talking to other corporations about assisting them in disposing of large campuses.
“There are brokers out there that know that you can execute and there are brokers that are representing very large tenants, so we’re speaking to them,” Chomik said. “The infrastructure and the people here at Vision are key to us. And we have a case study and we can show tenants and brokers what we can do.
“We can show towns what we can do as well.”