SUMMIT, NJ — For Summit, the wait is finally over. After spending nearly two years in limbo, the campus space at 556 Morris Ave. — formerly the home of Merck & Co., Inc. — is under contract with biotech giant Celgene, according to city officials.
“We’re thrilled, because Summit has, over the years, kind of spontaneously become a health care town, in the sense that we have a world class medical center and we have two world class pharma-related companies,” said Dr. Robert Rubino, Summit’s Common Council President. “Celgene is just a major player in the bio-pharma space. They’re doing great things with camps, research and therapy. Bob Hugin, the CEO, has, in my mind, been a masterful CEO in developing that company, and I think this move further demonstrates it.”
The city has worked to find a new tenant, added Rubino, since about October 2013, when Merck announced in that it would move its global headquarters to Kenilworth.
The new deal with Celgene, which is already headquartered in Summit, is set to go through in September pending “due diligence,” city officials said.
If it goes through, Celgene will acquire a property that includes 850,000 square feet of office space and 450,000 of research and development space, according to a press release from Summit.
“The city holds Celgene in high regard for being a long-standing community partner and we anticipate them making the most of an outstanding property,” said Summit Mayor Ellen Dickson. “It is an exciting prospect that Celgene will continue to develop and grow its highly successful business in this world-class Summit location.”
Celgene, which is already headquartered in Summit, has already integrated itself into the city’s community over the years, according to Rubino, making the company an ideal partner. When Celgene conducted a large construction project on their Summit headquarters, he said, they did “exemplary” outreach, and complaints from residents were minimal.
And while Celgene is a company that has worked with Summit over the years, added Rubino, its acquisition of the former Merck campus could also improve the city’s stock in the eyes of other potential tenants.
“Hopefully it will put us on the map, for other companies, to settle here in Summit,” said Rubino. “They’re going to be creating a lot more jobs, locally. It’s going to help the property values, I think, because it’s going to be an economic stimulus to not only the downtown, but the businesses in the area. I think it’s important that people and other large corporations, when they’re looking to relocate in the Northeast, they’re going to look to Summit for its unique qualities.”
Summit is an attractive city for pharma-related companies like Celgene, said Rubino, for a host of reasons: It’s a one-seat ride to midtown Manhattan, has a strong medical and health care presence already, and includes easy access to New Jersey’s “major arteries,” such as I-78 and the Garden State Parkway. It’s also developing a highline park, bordering Celgene, which would improve business and resident accessibility even further.
“We’re in the early process of trying to build a highline here in Summit, which is kind of like the New York City highline, where you take an abandoned railway and connect it to the country park — that’s on the perimeter of town — and bring it right alongside Celgene’s hospital, past Overlook Hospital and to the downtown,” said Rubino. “It would create an opportunity for young folks who move here to have kind of a walk-able, bike-able route to some of our major amenities.”
Merck was also a good partner, said Rubino, and paid $9 million annually in taxes on the property. But the gap Merck created, when leaving for Kenilworth, is currently in the process of being filled.
“We’re sad to see Merck go, but that’s more of a casualty of their corporate structure to consolidate, to unload prime real estate portfolio, and we happen to have prime real estate,” said Rubino. “We were hoping that like-minded, or like-use, company would be made of that property, and it’s going to be.”