GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP - New Vistas Corp., a Northfield-based real estate and development firm that specializes in complex projects with financing difficulties, was designated as the developer of the future NextGen Aviation Research and Technology Park by the park's board Wednesday.

The firm was named as the Egg Harbor Township park's "conditional designated developer." The designation will allow New Vistas to move forward with marketing the park and securing potential tenants, as the firm will now be able to access the board's information regarding plans for the first building and tenant negotiations, New Vistas President Michael Cohan said.

Cohan was the founding executive director of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority. He founded New Vistas in the 1980s after leaving his post at the CRDA. The company has 60 employees and offices in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

"We feel confident we can do this project. It's not going to be an easy project," Cohan said of the park planned for a 55-acre parcel on the campus of the William J. Hughes Technical Center. "Any project today that's a commercial project is difficult. If you add more ingredients to it, it gets even more difficult."

Building construction has yet to commence on the seven-building project first announced in October 2005, and prior opportunities for financing have been missed under the leadership of the South Jersey Economic Development District, which holds the land lease for the park with the Federal Aviation Administration. Tenants also have yet to be secured. However, Cohan said Wednesday that New Vistas has one letter of intent from a company based in St. Louis.

The project is complicated by negotiations between SJEDD and the park's board, which seeks control of the lease agreement. The board currently does not have control of the land for the park, but board members said initial steps in the way of marketing and tenant recruitment can be made without the lease transfer, which they are confident will occur.

SJEDD has incurred $858,000 of unfunded liabilities while leading a $7 million infrastructure installation for the park and is seeking to recoup those expenses as a condition of assigning its rights to the lease. According to an addendum the lease agreement with the FAA, SJEDD defaults on the lease if it fails to begin construction of the first building by Dec. 21, 2014.

SJEDD Executive Director Gordon Dahl, who is a member of the park's board, did not attend Wednesday's meeting at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. When reached Wednesday night, he was reluctant to comment at length on the developer selection, saying he has not been privy to the selection process.

"I have no idea what has gone on in the (proposal) process, so there's not much I can say," Dahl said. "If we're approached with this, the board will consider it and look at what's best for the district."

Aside from the resolution approved Wednesday, no formal contracts are yet in place. According to the resolution, New Vistas will post $25,000 within 10 day to fund the designation expenses. The company has 90 days to enter into a memorandum of agreement with the park's board outlining the terms of the arrangement. Following the execution of the agreement, New Vistas will have another 120 days to negotiate and execute a master grand sublease agreement and a master developer agreement.

Assuming all of the time is used, that could extend the deadlines of the arrangement into August. If the agreements aren't executed in the specified time frames, the board has the exclusive power to terminate the agreement, discontinue negotiations with New Vistas and commence negotiations with other parties.

Meanwhile, a $9.5 million bid for construction of the first building from Hunter Roberts Construction Group, which has offices in Philadelphia and Newark, Essex County, has been extended through June 30, 2012. Two previous deadlines to utilize the bid have been missed, and the company recently agreed to a third extension.

New Vistas was selected through a request for qualifications process that began in May. More than 70 companies downloaded information on the process from the South Jersey Transportation Authority website. Two companies responded in June with statements of qualifications. In September, a subsequent request for proposals was issued to which New Vistas was the only respondent.

In a proposal submitted to the board, New Vistas included a letter of intent from World Wide Technology, a St. Lewis-based company interested in locating in the park. The company provides information technology services to government and commercial entities.

New Vistas originally focused primarily on refurbishing troubled properties and later expanded into commercial construction. The company is the developer and property manager for Tilton Fitness in Galloway. It is also the property manager for 2 South Main Street in Pleasantville - an office building housing the Pleasantville One-Stop Career Center.

Board members said they are confident in their selection and believe New Vistas will be able to develop an aggressive approach to marketing the project.

"It's going to be a home-team effort to make sure we have a lot of home runs," board President Ed Salmon said.

Cohan said one of the keys to moving the project forward will be driving down the cost of space to somewhere between $21 and $23 a square foot triple net, meaning that in addition to the rental rates, tenants would be responsible for additional property expenses such as maintenance and utilities.

As for other tenants, he said he believes immediate tenants for the park can be found in local businesses currently working out of less-than-desirable spaces. Another source of immediate tenants would be aviation-related companies looking to move closer to the tech center in search of procurement opportunities.

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