KENILWORTH, NJ — Change is in the air for Kenilworth, as Merck announced last month it would be selling its 108-acre campus in the borough to Onyx Equities, LLC.
Kenilworth Mayor Linda Karlovitch applauded everyone involved who made this deal possible.
“I would like to thank everyone involved for doing their due diligence and exploring all possible options to achieve this goal regarding the sale of the Merck property,” she said in a statement released Wednesday, Feb. 15. “I was happy to work with Merck during this process and I am pleased that a qualified and suitable buyer was chosen. I believe this will secure the future of Kenilworth, ensuring equity and stability for our borough. Kenilworth looks forward to welcoming and working with the new buyers of the property.”
In its 120-year existence, Merck has accomplished many scientific breakthroughs, even as the company’s headquarters in Rahway grew to more than 200 acres, a site with an expected expansion where much of what is now in Kenilworth is expected to relocate. But don’t say farewell to Merck in Kenilworth just yet.
“Merck will be staying for the next two years before they completely leave the property,” explained Karlovitch in an interview with Union County LocalSource on Friday, March 3. “I think it’s healthy for Kenilworth. It was definitely a fear of mine to see that property remain vacant.”
The mayor said one of her biggest concerns with the departure of Merck was finding the right company or companies to move into the campus.
“It was a long process,” Karlovitch said. “There were a lot of interested parties. Merck narrowed it down to three and I met with them many times during the process.
“Onyx Equities purchased the campus. This was my first choice. They are a solid company. They know what they’re doing.”
As for Merck, it’s staying right where it is, at least for now.
“Merck will be vacating the property in approximately two years,” she said. “So it allows the new owners some time to market the property and they’ll be keeping it in the life sciences industry.
“Merck will be on the campus, but Onyx owns the property. So I would guess they’re doing a lease back.”
The departure of Merck will be a gradual process, one that has been planned for some time.
“What was great is that Merck really included me in the process and really kept me aware of what was going on,” Karlovitch said. “Kenilworth has a voice at the table. I met with Merck many times over the past several years regarding the sale of this property. I’m really happy to see the sale go through. It’s been known since 2020.”
“This collaboration is an incredible opportunity to help reimagine the hub of life sciences while also continuing Merck’s strong history and legacy of serving patients and communities,” said Shefali Shah, Global Real Estate Lead, Merck, in the press release on Wednesday, Feb. 15. “We believe Onyx Equities, LLC will foster long-term value, economic growth and sustainability within the community. We look forward to collaborating with Onyx Equities, LLC and their team members on a smooth transition.”
Merck will vacate the property in phases during the next several years while its new headquarters in Rahway completes a planned expansion.
Karlovitch expressed satisfaction that the financial status of the borough would not be in any jeopardy, despite the gradual departure of the pharmaceutical giant.
“I’m just grateful that the future of Kenilworth is secure. I look forward to working with the new owners,” she said.
“I’m sure they’ll be marketing the campus.”
She clarified that Onyx wasn’t moving into the entire site itself.
“They are an investment company. I expect there will be several pharmaceutical companies, smaller than Merck, sharing the campus,” said Karlovitch. “There’s a state-of-the-art research and development center.”
The mayor said she knew it had to be a difficult decision for Merck to leave their locale in the borough.
“The Kenilworth campus is gorgeous,” Karlovitch said. “It’s hard to imagine they would give that up. I’m glad they’re staying in New Jersey.”
The mayor said she is glad to welcome Onyx Equities to the borough, because the last thing she wanted to see was an empty property, falling to pieces and not earning any money to offset the taxes of homeowners.
“That’s why it was so important to find the right buyer and have that buyer in place before Merck moves out,” she said. “That way, there’s time to get a new company in place.
“You need to bring in new ratables or you need to pay for it.”
Another concern expressed to her by residents was the number of trucks that seemed to coincide with the departure and arrival of businesses, particularly near residential areas.
“I understand people are concerned with traffic,” Karlovitch said. “If you’re going to get the traffic, you may as well get the ratables.”
However, she said that this is a small price to pay for the benefits the new business will bring the community.
“More traffic also means more people stopping into our restaurants and businesses,” she said. “It will be gradual.
“I feel really confident that we’re in good hands.”
Photo Courtesy of Merck