The first inkling of what would become one of the biggest and most surprising development deals in recent New Jersey history started innocently enough. And seemingly without much chance for success.
At a social gathering.
Two top officials from what was then Hackensack University Medical Center shared a moment in the spring of 2013:
“Did you hear Roche wants to make sure its campus is used for a health care project?
“Do you think that could be the place for our medical school?”
The Hackensack officials — in the midst of another big moment, their merger with Meridian Health — assumed the cost would be prohibitive. And after so many failed attempts at reaching this goal, had perhaps a bit of apprehension.
But when they found out the inquiry came through the well-respected and highly regarded former head of the state Economic Development Authority, Caren Franzini, they knew they needed to hear a little bit more.
“When Caren Franzini wants to talk, you take the call,” Hackensack CEO Robert C. Garrett said.
Franzini, the head of Franzini Consulting, had been hired as a sub-consultant for the RES Group — the economic development team helping Roche and the towns of Nutley and Clifton find a new purpose for the soon-to-be vacated 119-acre plot on Route 3.
“We reached out to a couple of entities in biotech and pharma and asked them, would they be interested in looking at the site — and asked, ‘How would you use this site to make it a health care campus,’ ” Franzini said.
She knew Hackensack had been a leader in research, so she had her sister, Paula Crowley — the CEO of Anchor Health Properties, a national health care developer — reach out to one of her old friends, Hackensack CFO Robert L. Glenning.
Soon after, Franzini helped bring the two sides together.