The Gem on the Hill

By: Jeff Stadelman

 

The office park boon during the 1970’s and 1980’s found a westward migration of companies and their workforce into suburban environments.  This in return created a rapid rise of residential construction in towns such as Mount Olive.  

After lengthy preliminary parcel development including a controversial land swap, construction of the first phase was completed and the facility populated in 1994.  A second phase expanded the building in 1998 to its present size of 1,000,885 square feet of prime Class A office space.  At the time it was hailed as one of the premier office complexes on the east coast.  It became the North American Headquarters of German chemical giant BASF Corporation and its data center world headquarters.  

The complex included the 97-acre parcel housing the facility and the adjacent 57 acres for future development of a 700,000 square foot office building to house their Knoll Pharmaceutical subsidiary.  The estimated cost of site development was $200 million plus another $50 million to equip the building.  The inter-connected cluster of five buildings possess numerous amenities included an 800-seat cafeteria, 10,000 square foot fitness center with locker rooms, 100 conference areas, 20,000 square foot data center, and two parking garages with a 2350 car capacity.  

Advantages that drew BASF to the site included its direct access to Interstate 80, a local professional work force, access to major technical and research universities as well as a highly appreciated reverse commute for its employees.  

At its prime the facility housed a reported 2960 of potential 3400 employees.  By the early 2000’s a series of events caused BASF to decentralize and eventually downsized to its current 350,000 square foot Florham Park site.   Knoll Pharmaceutical was sold which lowered the building’s occupancy by 1000 employees.  BASF vacated in 2004, marketed the property but the North Jersey overpopulated office building inventory did not allow for an interested buyer.    With a Morris County office vacancy rate of 29%, James Hughes, longtime Dean of Rutgers University School of Planning and Public Policy, proposed that 25% of the regions office building space be demolished.  

In 2006 BPG Properties, a private equity real estate fund manager, purchased the 97-acre facility site renaming it Morris Crossroads Corporate Campus, adding amenities for better positioning its resale.  After little success for a resell they turned the facility over to Wells Fargo Bank in 2010.  With multiple options to repurpose the site, Wells Fargo, in 2014, commissioned the Urban Land Institute to implement a strategic study to reposition it for adaptive reuse given market conditions.  2017 found the sale to Matrix Development Group who are currently exploring redevelopment options.  The township has been involved in discussions on how it can best serve the community but the ultimate decision is with the property owner.   

Todays corporate movement has been toward downtown urban areas with the many state and local grants and tax incentives extended them, leaving many suburban municipalities with the task of repurposing properties including Morris Crossroads Corporate Campus. 

Today, this once the flagship of BASF, remains unoccupied.  The infrastructure is there, now instilling a little innovation and magic into it will create the transformation into a new life for this very strategic asset property.  Stay tuned.  

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