The Boomerang Effect

As big players exit legacy R&D campuses, smaller tenants need help taking them over, and ProTecs and Advance Realty are doing their part with the newly refurbished and apportioned New Jersey Center of Excellence at Bridgewater

ProTecs and Advance Realty are creating the New Jersey Center of Excellence at Bridgewater from the skeleton of the former campus of pharma giant Sanofi.

It’s 1985, and John is a clinical researcher at the region’s largest pharmaceutical company. Each day, he commutes 40 minutes to work. When he arrives at the sprawling campus surrounded by razor wire, big iron gates swing open, and he presents a tattered ID badge to a security officer. He works all day in a sterile environment, only pausing to select a mediocre meal from the 40,000-square-foot cafeteria. John dines alone.
Thankfully, those days are long gone. The modern workplace culture is changing, and big pharma is changing with it. Over the past decade, due to financial concerns, major corporations have moved away from humongous R&D campuses and instead outsourced the work, funding small biotech companies that each work toward one “sure thing.” Collaboration is key, and businesses are looking for creative space that will foster these new relationships. Enter ProTecs.

ProTecs is a nationwide design-build and construction-management firm. Christopher R. DiPaolo founded it nine years ago when he noticed smaller tech companies were leasing modest single-story flex space throughout the marketplace and larger companies were starting to farm out more of their R&D and manufacturing operations. He works with tenants and landlords to deliver high-tech facilities at the lowest possible price through a patented project-delivery system he calls “Target Costing.” The process focuses on performance, conformance, and price guarantees at the earliest onset of a project.

Basically, DiPaolo and vice president of operations Jay McKenna are catering to displaced scientists who can’t afford to purchase and renovate buildings at $400–$500 per square foot or more. “We can get them into a building suited for their needs at an eighth of the cost,” DiPaolo says. “It’s a huge benefit for jobs, the local markets, and the industry.”

ProTecs and Advance are transforming the Bridgewater campus into an incubator that will accommodate research firms of varying sizes rather than one big tenant.

In 2011, ProTecs signed a lease-to-own agreement on a multitenant property once owned by a large REIT that didn’t have the vision or patience to create a life science innovation center. The company targeted smaller start-ups as potential tenants and had full occupancy within 15 months of purchasing the property. Then, Ashland, a specialty chemical and technology company, hired ProTecs to help it relocate. ProTecs found a spot in Bridgewater, New Jersey, on an expansive parcel once owned by pharma giant Sanofi.

The Bridgewater site comprises 1.2 million square feet spread over 110 acres. Sanofi exited in 2012, leaving behind a centrally located and well-maintained facility with labs, research facilities, meeting rooms, offices, parking structures, café space, a central utility plant, a cogeneration system, basketball courts, and even a helipad. ProTecs repurposed one of the site’s pharmaceutical buildings for Ashland, who ended up leasing 198,000 square feet. That’s when Sanofi sold the site to a developer, Advance Realty, who liked what ProTecs did and hired the company to work on the rest of the campus, now called the New Jersey Center of Excellence at Bridgewater.

Kurt Padavano is the COO of Advance Realty. His company has been in the market for 50 years and became attracted to the Bridgewater location and its infrastructure. Advance’s plan is to retain 850,000 square feet of modern lab, research, and development space and demolish 350,000 square feet that has become obsolete. Then, the company will build 450 apartment units, 200,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, new offices, new labs, and a hotel. “We have the opportunity to create a new product out of something that’s been a gated research campus for 50 years,” Padavano says. “It will now become part of the community again and meet the needs of today’s users.”

Sustainable features, ample green space, walkways, and bike paths will combine to create a comfortable site where people can reside, eat, shop, and visit. The Center of Excellence will be open to the public and will truly connect back to its community. “As we look at the changing demographics of the workforce, we see that younger professionals increasingly value a live-work-play atmosphere,” Padavano says.


“We have the opportunity to create a new product out of something that has been a gated research campus for 50 years.”

—Kurt Padavano, COO, Advance Realty


McKenna and ProTecs hope the project catalyzes what he calls a “boomerang effect.” The site’s previous tenant had a huge facility it didn’t need, and few (if any) new single tenants were big enough to use the large space on their own. When large, specialized companies exit a municipality, they often displace hundreds of workers with very specific talents. Those people either leave the community in search of a job or pool their resources to launch a new company. But, if they launch a new company, they have nowhere to go. That’s the problem the Center of Excellence is built to address. “We hope to create a space where someone with a viable company can come, grow that company, and add employees,” McKenna says. “Before long, we’ll see a number of successful organizations that are the next acquisition targets for big pharma.” The model will also stimulate the local Bridgewater economy by helping retain taxes and jobs.

After ProTecs used its patented Targeted Costing system to get Ashland into the Center of Excellence on time and on budget, Advance found a second tenant (a drug manufacturer) to take 150,000 square feet. Advance will accommodate users of 50,000 square feet and above in single buildings and subdivide structures for smaller tenants. The biggest challenge will be metering utilities, allocating costs, and splitting common areas such as loading docks, elevators, and mechanical rooms, but Padavano says his company’s deep experience with multitenant projects is helping it provide solutions.

He’ll also rely on Advance’s relationship with ProTecs and DiPaolo’s process that provides guaranteed up-front costs. “We’re project-driven to meet all of our clients’ goals and objectives—whereas everyone else is task-driven,” DiPaolo says. By doing repeat work at Bridgewater, he’s able to understand more fully the cost and performance goals and then work with all disciplines to get everyone on the same page.

Padavano and DiPaolo see huge potential for the Center of Excellence to have an impact on both the local economy and the scientific community. In fact, DiPaolo is so convinced that he’s planning to move in. Later this year, ProTecs will open a full-service office of its own on the campus.

The site plan for the New Jersey Center for Excellence at Bridgewater.