Woodcrest Corporate Center, Cherry Hill, NJ
A once-bankrupt, vacant, 335,000-square-foot packaging plant – incorporating eight acres of space under one roof – is coming back to market as a premier office destination in June, thanks to a tried-and-true remanufacturing process developed by The O’Neill Properties Group LP, based in King of Prussia, PA. O’Neill Properties, in joint venture with Strategic Realty Investments LLC, identified the property, put it under agreement, secured financing from Commerce Bank, and successfully bid for and acquired the property in bankruptcy court – all in less than 30 days. Noting the redevelopment potential of the property was enormous, the owners pointed to the site’s highly adaptable existing structures, parking lot, proximity to nearby amenities, and access to Philadelphia and New Jersey via I-295 and PATCO High-Speed mass transit. Inside, the building features a giant workflow operations center with raised floor; cabling; two-acre skylights; mezzanines; elevators; and a centrally located “town center” with a cafeteria, gym, and conference rooms.
Owners: The O’Neill Properties Group LP; Strategic Realty Investments LLC.
Learn more about this project at (www.oneillproperties.com)
Q: The O’Neill Properties Group considers itself a “value accelerator” in identifying, acquiring, and then remanufacturing industrial brownfields sites. How does your strategy work?
“We’ve developed a remanufacturing proc-ess that enables us to analyze the risk associated with an environmentally contaminated building to the penny,” explains J. Brian O’Neill, founder and chairman of O’Neill Properties Group LP. “Combining both a formula and internal expertise, we bring to the table environmental engineers, attorneys, and project managers who know how to price out the cost of environmental remediation. We have a sophisticated value matrix with about 50 variables that deal with everything from construction cost, absorption, and product type to interest, operating cost, etc., and come up with an ultimate product. We can then offer an industrial company or government agency selling a building a 90-day closing for cash. Because the buildings are generally big, ugly, and empty, we work with local townships to rezone them for higher and better uses. Generally, we can do a 1 million-square-foot project within 18 months; we move at lightning speed because in a 1 million-square-foot plant, the utilities could be $5 million per year.”
Q: Is marketing a former brownfields site a difficult sell?
“First of all, we have zero tolerance post-remediation so that when a project is finished it’s actually cleaner than non-brownfields properties because we’ve identified the issue and remediated it entirely,” says O’Neill. “Secondly, we bring a site to the standards of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the [Pennsylvania] Department of Environmental Protection, submitting data before, during, and after work, which identifies all the levels of contaminated soil, water, etc., and are issued an EPA Act II [certification], which says we have complied with and completed the clean-up and are indemnified on a going-forward basis. The good news on any property we recondition or recycle is that we can make the statement that the property is clean and risk-free, and we have the government certification that proves it is so.”
Q: Any advice to your industry peers about brownfields development?
“Dealing with brownfields buildings is like brain surgery; if you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t do it, because you can make multi-million dollar mistakes by varying two to five percent from a process. Secondly, if you do get involved in a brownfields project, do everything by the book with zero deviation because it is absolutely, from a liability and a potential health point of view, extraordinarily risky to deviate from standard legal processes. A big part of it is knowing those rules and regulations. This is the most complex end of the development business; consider joint venturing with experts in the field such as ourselves so you don’t get in trouble.”