The assignment 

Most real estate professionals will go their entire career without needing a Geiger Counter, the device that emits a distinct ticking sound to measure nearby radiation levels, on one of their tours. 

However, as Jerry Fennelly, SIOR, President of Fennelly Associates, analyzed the distinctive beehive that was once home to the nation’s first privately-owned nuclear reactor, he knew that the marketing of 31 Schalks Crossing in Plainsboro would be far from business as usual. 

The property 

31 Schalks Crossing Road was originally constructed in the 1950s by The Institute for Advanced Study and Columbia University to serve as a research reactor to commercialize radioactive Isotopes. Techniques developed at the facility are still used today in X-rays and the oil industry. A growing local population and ongoing funding concerns forced the reactor to be permanently shut down in the late 1970s.

Despite being rendered obsolete in its original role, the facility’s prior scientific usage enabled it to find a second life as a drug research and manufacturing facility. After undergoing extensive remediation and renovation to bring it up to pharmaceutical research and manufacturing standards, the property then served as the home to a leading manufacturer of generic pharmaceuticals for 40 years. As the pharmaceutical company’s business changed, it no longer needed the property. Fennelly Associates was contacted by the owner to sell it. 

The challenges

  1. The property’s past life meant that radioactivity was a frequent concern of prospective buyers. 
  2. The age of the facility and equipment limited the buyers to smaller pharmaceutical occupiers.

The solution

There is no marketing playbook for how to sell a former nuclear reactor site.

Despite the uniqueness of the assignment, Fennelly Associates knew it could lean on decades of experience and extensive local contacts to find a buyer that could look beyond the property’s past to see it for what it was – a recently renovated scientific facility with 3000 amps of power and existing hoods and drug manufacturing equipment located within a private, serene location along one of the nation’s most sought-after research corridors. 

Jerry and his team immediately sought to identify the types of buyers who would be interested in the 50,150-square-foot, 31-acre facility. The two core categories would be pharmaceutical end-users interested in owning their own spaces or semiconductor and fusion companies that would benefit from the existing heavy power supply and large water capacity.

With the target audiences identified, the Fennelly Associates team planned an omnichannel marketing strategy to effectively reach the key audiences. A press release announcing the listing was distributed to local and regional news outlets as well as real estate and business publications.  

In addition, regular social media posts on Fennelly Associates’ Facebook and LinkedIn kept followers engaged with the property. 

The company also created a Matterport walk thru video and a drone flyover that showed the property’s key features. 

Using popular platforms such as Loopnet, Fennelly Associates was able to place ads to alert national and international occupiers and brokers to the availability of the property. Locally, Fennelly Associates secured ads that highlighted the building’s design and history in local publications such as The Princeton Packet.

Jerry also attended several large biotech and life sciences conferences to speak with end-users about the property and its potential. 

The results 

Through Fennelly Associates’ proactive and comprehensive marketing, it attracted a local private equity buyer. In addition to purchasing the building, the buyer also hoped to purchase the prior owner’s pharmaceutical patents and its manufacturing equipment as well as retain its employees.

The deal closed for $7.7M in 2023 highlighting how Fennelly Associates’ time-tested marketing expertise and local knowledge can be harnessed to help its clients achieve their real estate goals at any property.

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